Merci Pour Le Chocolat

Merci Pour Le Chocolat


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Director Claude Chabrol has become the master of innuendo. It is not what you see, it is what you think you see. Subtlety blends into sophistication so that every act, seemingly innocent, contains the germ of a clue.

When the internationally renowned pianist, Andre (Jacques Dutronc), marries again, everyone is pleased for him. It is only later that the circumstances of his first wife's death cause suspicion. She had volunteered to drive to the village, one evening, to buy sleeping tablets for Andre. The car went off one of the hairpin bends and crashed into a ravine. She had fallen asleep at the wheel, apparently.

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Mika (Isabelle Huppert) is Andre's new wife. Many years have passed. She has inherited the chocolate factory from her late father and seems reluctant to make radical changes to improve productivity. She is a calming, soothing influence, and yet opaque, impenetrable, enigmatic.

In another part of town, 18-year-old Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis) hears an interesting story about her birth. Andre's son, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly), was born on the same day in the same hospital and when his father went to see the child, he was handed baby Jeanne instead. The mistake was rectified at once, although the sliver of a doubt remained.

Jeanne looks not unlike Andre's first wife and she is studying piano. Guillaume is studying nothing. The coincidence intrigues Jeanne so much so that she goes to Mika's house and insists on talking to Andre. Naturally, he is intrigued. She is a beautiful girl, she is practising for a piano competition, she admires his work.

Mika goes out of her way to make Jeanne feel at home, as she comes every day for piano lessons and Andre admits that teaching her makes him feel young again. Mika's accommodating kindness appears in some way calculating. But how? Why?

Is the secret in the thermos? Every evening, she makes hot chocolate for Guillaume. One day, when Jeanne is there, she knocks the thermos onto the floor and Jeanne helps to wipe up the mess. Some of the chocolate splashes over her sweater, which she takes to her boyfriend, who works in her mother's criminal lab. He discovers traces of a strong sedative drug.

Chabrol, now on his 53rd feature film, weaves his web. The pace is unhurried. The relationship between Andre and Jeanne masks Mika's movements. The mystery lies in motivation. Has a crime been committed? Will another be attempted? Does Guillaume fear rejection now that Jeanne has stolen his father's affection? Is Andre his father?

The film sets hares running, but not the heather on fire.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2001
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A young pianist gets caught up in a web of family history intrigue.
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Director: Claude Chabrol

Writer: Claude Chabrol, based on the novel by Charlotte Armstrong

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc, Anna Mouglalis, Rodolphe Pauly, Brigitte Catillon, Michel Robin

Year: 2000

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France/Switzerland


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