Chocolat (1988) dir. Claire Denis
Lecture content • ‘Chocolat’ as a first film (how Denis came to make it, production) • French colonialism in Africa – background. • Significance of title of film and characters’ names. • Characters and how they illustrate the functioning of the colonial regime.
Claire Denis’ route to Chocolat • Trained at IDHEC, now FEMIS (Institut de Formation et d’Enseignement pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son). • US desert locations of ‘Paris, Texas’ (dir. Wim Wenders) and her African childhood gave her idea for ‘Chocolat’ • Advance finance obtained July 1986 (La Sept, TFI productions, Cameroonian Ministry of Culture) • Film project saved when funding withdrawn 2 months before shooting
Colonialism 1 – background • France as colonial power in Africa early C19 (Senegal 1817, Algeria 1830) to 1962. • Increase in resistance and rebellion up to WW2. Tunisia and Morocco independent 1956, most other African colonies 1960. • Cameroun/Cameroon (prev. The Cameroons) a German colony that became French 1918 in WWI reparations. • Decolonisation and the French Republic – website of interviews at http://www.port.ac.uk/special/france1815to2003/chapter9/interviews/filetodownload,18264,en.pdf
Colonialism 2 - title and names • ‘être chocolat’ = se faire avoir/to be had, be the victim or = to be black/person of colour • Postcolonialism = condition/ relationships existing when colony-ies gain independence. • Aimée (= beloved), Segalen (name of poet, anagram of Senegal), Protée (god Proteus) • France = (1) what is ‘produced’ in the colonies (2) person who makes postcolonial return to Cameroun
Narrative structure of Chocolat • Present-day (1980s) ‘frame’ surrounds flashback to 1957. • First half of flashback depicts house, family, servants, colonial system. • Second half (after plane crash) shows disorder in system and Protée’s punishment • Conclusion of ‘frame’ shows complexities of postcolonial interracial relationships
Characters and relationships 1 • France - most neutral ‘eye’, as has yet to be inculcated with colonial attitudes • Protée - loyal, hardworking, but hates régime. Relationship with France • Marc - Lover of Africa, but an innocent and a dreamer. • Aimée - restricted domestic role of women in colonialism. Attraction to Protée.
Characters and relationships 2 • Luc Segalen - ex-séminariste, flouts rules of régime, stirs up trouble • Machinard & Mireille - inexperienced, intimidated. Machinard’s racism • Joseph Delpich & Thérèse - totally conflicting professional and personal roles
Visuals • Greater use of images than of dialogue • Exterior scenes - Landscapes • Interior scenes (and exteriors with characters) - analyse gesture, posture, non-verbal actions, looks, which are as important as dialogue if not more so in the film.