Chocolat [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (29th April 2024).
The Film

"Chocolat" (1988)

Taking place in French Cameroon in the 1950s, the Dalens are a white family living in the rural Mindif area, where the father Marc (played by François Cluzet) is the appointed government official. Along with his wife Aimée (played by Giulia Boschi) and their young daughter named France (played by Cécile Ducasse), they have a fairly quiet and peaceful life, though Marc at times must travel far for work for days at a time. The family's servant Protée (played by Isaach De Bankolé) is a young man who is loyal to his work and helps with many of the family's needs. This includes being an interpreter, a caretaker for young France, and serving the family other everyday needs. The bond between France and Protée is loving and friendly, though times and situations are changing for everyone.

Filmmaker Claire Denis made her directorial debut with "Chocolat", which was partially based on some of her own experiences living in various countries in Africa at a young age as the daughter of a French government official. With the character of the aptly named character of France, it mirrored Denis' memories of childhood being that the continent which she grew up in was the only place she really knew and felt was home. For both, it was not the country of their birth nor the country of their white ancestors. But as children, they are not aware of the the historical nature of colonialism, and they do not understand that there are issues that separate one another. The film is mostly seen through the eyes of France. She might wear pretty white dresses and come from a well off family, she has a delight eating a delicious sandwich with live ants - something that local children could snack on but would be considered disgusting in her birth country. When see sees a graveyard and asks her mother if they will one day be buried there as well, it's a though that the mother never had, as her assumption was to eventually return to their home country. But for the young daughter, it only seems natural that one would live and die where they were, just like a local would feel. By placing the events of much of the story through her perspective, Denis is able to bring audiences into her past, and this is also done through a flashback structure, as the film opens with the adult France (played by Mireille Perrier visiting Cameroon long after its liberation.

French Cameroon gained its independence on January 1st, 1960, and while the film does not show the works of liberation movements or campaigns for independence, the story lays out metaphors for the country's events through the relationships with the characters. Marc represents the old country of France and its stance in the world, as the government worker who does not seem to acknowledge any issue of conflict. He sees himself having a secure life. With a loving wife and daughter and a job that is stable and in a higher position. But while he is away for lengthy periods, Aimée is left alone. She represents the old country of France losing its grip. She is not able to fully take control as a woman or a parent, as she struggles with everyday life in the rural foreign landscape. She cannot communicate with locals or even whether in their native tongue or even in English, causing mistranslations and situations that cause frustration and anxiety. She may see her husband as her sole form of true comfort, as when he returns home she is overjoyed with his presence. There are points in which she tries to receive console from Protée while her husband is away, such as from helping her put on her dress for a diplomatic meeting. But Protée never gives in and makes his stance clear. He represents the new Cameroon, which is refusing the wills of the colonizers, and instead looks towards respect by breaking away. Protée is respectful towards his employers and especially to young France, but he is not loyal to France the country. Even though there is sexual tension between Aimée and Protée emotionally, Denis decides not to show a physical romance taking place, as this was a story about conflict being resolved by emotional withdrawal, rather than using sex as a reason to move the drama forward. Denis has stated the producers wanted more sexual tension included, though she refused and made it more internal.

The film plays out episodically through a series of events in the lives of the Dalens family. There is the sequence in which Aimée scolds her cook Enoch (played by Donatus Ngala) for his mostly English based food rather than French being served. The tables are literally turned when English official Jonathan Boothby (played by Kenneth Cranham) comes to visit the home while Marc is away, and she is desperate to have Enoch back to cook some English food for the occasion. There is the lengthy sequence in which a small plane must make an emergency landing in the town. The plane's captain Védrine (played by Didier Flamand), his navigator Luc (played by Jean-Claude Adelin), French government official Machinard (played by Laurent Arnal) and his newlywed wife Mireille (played by Emmanuelle Chaulet) and coffee producer Delpich (played by Jacques Denis) are stranded in Mindif for at least two weeks until the plane could be repaired, and the Dalens give them shelter for the time being. There are some comedic elements such as Delpich's frustration and trying to bribe locals into giving him a ride out of town, though there are some tense situations such as a fight breaking out between Luc and Protée. The film tries to balance the drama as well as the comedy, and the well paced story does a fantastic job by letting the actions take place without the use of rapid cuts and having the performers act in real time with space in between.

As noted that the film is in a flashback form, with bookending scenes featuring the adult France returning to Cameroon by herself, and another important character is the man she encounters in her travel, Mungo Park (played by Emmet Judson Williamson). Park at one point assumes that she is a foreigner visiting the country through the color of her skin, but in reality, she is back to where she used to call "home" and for a long time was everything she connected with. Park also tells her that he is a foreigner as well, as he is an American that moved to Cameroon, hoping that it could be a place to newly call "home" for him. But like her, he is treated as a foreigner and was swindled on his first day off the plane. The two may not share much in common, but they are both now treated as outsiders without a true home. It's a fascinating look at changes in time and place and people, and how identity can be shaped and changed through the eyes of others.

As for the views, the cinematography by Robert Alazraki is absolutely breathtaking in "Chocolat", with the vistas of the northern Cameroon plains, the mountains, all captured in beautiful 35mm, as well as the modern scenes with the beautiful greens of the trees and lakes. The music by musician Abdullah Ibrahim is also noteworthy, with the jazz and funk Afrobeat rhythms coming loud and clear in various scenes, while Denis also puts emphasis on the quietness of the rural landscape with many moments of silence. While it is remarkable that such a well made production was Denis' first film as a director, it should be noted that she worked as an assistant for Jacques Rivette, Wim Wenders, and Jim Jarmusch among others previously and she learned from some of the best while also placing a personal and unique personal touch to the film. Her debut and her later works have continued to win critical acclaim over the years and has become an iconic female film director at a time when there were so few (and still few in numbers).

The film premiered on May 18th, 1988 at the Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Palme d'or. The film was also nominated for a César Award for Best First Work. In 2023, the 4K restoration of the film by Eclair Classics made the festival rounds, and now the BFI is presenting the restoration for the first time on home video with its worldwide Blu-ray premiere.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original 35mm negative was scanned and restored at 4K resolution by Eclair Classics. The restoration work was approved by director Claire Denis, colourists Bruno Patin and Diego Mercuriali, and the director of photography Robert Alazraki. The use of the landscape and lighting showcase a number of beautiful looking scenes and this 4K restoration brings them out wonderfully. The greens of the trees and the colorful cars of the modern sequences, the earth tones of the past sequences are absolutely beautiful, with excellent care of each hue. Skin tones are natural looking in the natural lights, and detail is excellent throughout. Damage marks such as dust and scratches have basically been removed entirely while still keeping the film grain intact for a natural look that is vivid and clean. Shot on AGFA stock film, Denis stated that the film always had a rich color palate of earthy tones that previous video transfers could not get quite right, and was extremely pleased with the 4K restoration bringing the colors back to their intended state. An excellent job on the restoration and a great transfer here by the BFI.

The film's runtime is 104:37.


French LPCM 2.0 mono
The original audio track is presented in uncompressed form. The film has a wonderful soundscape in its use of the Afrobeat score cues by Abdullah Ibrahim, the effective quiet moments with the ambient noise of the atmosphere, and its use of dialogue. The dialogue, music and effects are all balanced well and the sound has been remastered for clarity, eliminating any noise such as hiss and pops for a clean and crisp sounding audio track.

There are optional English subtitles for the French dialogue in a white font, which are well timed and easy to read. There are some moments of English, Arabic and Hausa languages spoken in scenes, though these portions are intentionally not subtitled.


Audio commentary by film scholar and critic Kate Rennebohm (2024)
This new and exclusive commentary from Kate Rennebohm has her covering Denis' biography and the parallels within the film, the history of Cameroon's independence movement and the elements of colonialism shown in the film, information on the characters and their motivations, about the novel that partially inspired the story, about subsequent works by Denis and much more. While there is a lot of information to be found in this commentary, she tends to talk too quickly at times and she has a bad habit of saying “of course” when stating some background information. Some editing could have also been used as there are portions in which she admits she can’t find certain notes or information off hand, and these should have been an opportunity for her to edit in the correct info. It is still a good listen.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Claire Denis à propos de Chocolat" 2023 interview with Claire Denis (18:10)
This new interview with Denis has her discussing her earlier days as an assistant for Wim Wenders, the motivation for making a film in Cameroon, difficulty finding a suitable location, the film's themes, about her own childhood in Africa, as well as pleasing comments on the new 2023 restoration.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.66:1 in French Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"Claire Denis in Conversation" 2019 interview (48:47)
This on stage conversation with Denis and the BFI's Tricia Tuttle took place at the BFI Southbank in May 2019. She discusses about her unconventional childhood and her family, her decision in enrolling in film school, working with Wenders, working with Tindersticks on a number of scores, her current favorite music choices, and more. Interestingly she mentions that she received some songs from Andre 3000, who acted in her English language debut "High Life" a year prior with his newly recorded instrumental work, which finally received wide release in 2023. The conversation has also been embedded below, courtesy of the BFI.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

"Childhood Memories" 2018 short by Mary Martins (4:09)
This short by Mary Martins is a look back at when she visited her grandmother’s home in Lagos, Nigeria for the first time as a child, recalling the food, the atmosphere, and more through a mix of vintage footage, stop motion animation, and 2D hand drawn animation with a lively music score. Note the short is also available to watch for free on the BFI Player.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with optional English HoH subtitles

Trailers (with Play All) (3:15)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1:37)
- 2023 Restoration Trailer (1:38)

The original French trailer from 1988 and the restoration trailer from 2023 are presented back to back, with the original trailer being more cryptic in teasing the story. The original trailer is quite weak with color and detail as it has not been restored, while the 2023 trailer is vivid and beautiful coming from the 4K restoration. The US 4K restoration trailer (which just has the Janus Films logo added to the start) has been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in French Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

A 28 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay "The Shared Scar of Colonialism" by Cornelia Ruhe which looks at the film's themes and metaphors between the character relations and the changing geopolitical landscape. Next is "The Magic of the Meanest" by Catherine Bray which centers on "Chocolat" and also includes information on Denis and her subsequent features. This is followed by "A Solo Journey to Mindif" by Kevin Le Gendre with another great overview of the film. There are also full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills. Note that there is an excellent statement from director Mary Martins on her short film and its making in the special features section.

The film was released on DVD but none of the releases had extras besides the original trailer. The BFI's Blu-ray release marks the film's debut on the format, and with plenty of extras included.

Other notable clips

Claire Denis Masterclass at the 2019 Rotterdam Film Festival

2023 conversation with Claire Denis and Jim Jarmusch from the 27th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Siskel & Ebert review "Chocolat" (at the 16:00 mark)


"Chocolat" is a remarkable first film from Denis, filled with nostalgia from childhood memories through a visually enticing images and wonderful performances. The BFI's Blu-ray features an excellent transfer of the 4K restoration of the film plus a great number of new and exclusive extras, making this highly recommended.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A


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