Merci Pour Le Chocolat


Those wacky French people are at it again. Merci Pour Le Chocolat's English subtitle is Nightcap, and is based on Charlotte Armstrong's novel The Chocolate Cobweb. Either way, all three titles make perfect sense. This movie immediately brings to mind With A Friend Like Harry, which is similar in tone and structure. Both feature main characters who are the embodiment of evil, although few people seem to recognize this. Both films steep themselves in mood, creating a high sense of tension that only gets higher as the film nears its end. And, both films are pretty much about establishing that tension, failing to live up wrap things up adequately. However, one can argue that the film is mainly about tension, and in this sense, it succeeds immensely.

It takes a while to fully comprehend everything going on in Merci Pour Le Chocolat. Director Claude Chabrol (The Color of Lies, The Swindle). Everything revolves around Andre Polonski (Jacques Dutronc, Place Vendome, Les Victimes), a renowned pianist. At the beginning of the film, he married Mika (Isabelle Huppert, Les Destinees, Comedy of Innocence), the heir of a chocolate empire. Mika enjoys making chocolate for Andre and his son Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly, The Color of Lies). Andre's first wife and Guillaume's mother, Lisbeth, died years ago when she fell asleep at the wheel and crashed her car.

Enter Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis, The Captive, Terminale), an aspiring pianist. She learns from her mother Louise (Brigitte Catillon, The Taste of Others, La Parenthese Enchantee) that she was born on the same day in the same hospital as Guillaume. The nurse mistakenly brought her to Andre, saying that she was his daughter. Jeanne loves the idea that she may be Jeanne's daughter, but knows it is false. Still, she seeks out the Polonski's, just to meet Andre. Guillaume is understandably jealous at Andre's immediate affection towards Jeanne, but Mika's reactions are even stranger. She is outwardly friendly, but obviously trying to stir up bad feelings that aren't there. Jeanne sees Mika purposely spill some chocolate and helps her clean it up. Later, she has the chocolate analyzed, and finds it contains a powerful sedative. The chocolate was for Guillaume.

This is the clue that Chabrol and co-adapter Caroline Eliacheff (La Ceremonie) want people to pay attention to. Jeanne notices this, and is immediately wary of everything that Mika does. Huppert is great in this role. She moves slowly, in a deliberate and purposeful manner. Everything that comes out of her mouth is suspect, and Chabrol is slow to reveal her motivations. Chabrol just lets the camera focus on Huppert as she goes about her machinations, rationally plotting against everybody around her. And as the story unfurls, it is chilling watching the Mika character, since her actions only point in one direction. With so much suspense, the ending is both a letdown and a vindication. The ending may not really be a certain one, but Chabrol does everything else so well that one can forgive him for this.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 39 minutes, French with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains some mature themes and language, most likely a PG-13 or R.

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