Composer of the month

Soundtrack review: Chocolat (Rachel Portman – 2001)

Cue that best represents the score: Passage of time

My favorite cue: Mayan bowl breaks

“Chocolat” is a romantic drama about a young mother, Vianne, played by Juliette Binoche who arrives in a small French village and opens a small chocolaterie. Her chocolate begins to affect the lives of the townspeople. Johnny Depp stars, Judy Dench as well and from what I remember it was an enjoyable movie. The story makes me smile because my sister did something like this, she moved to a small French town and opened a chocolaterie and now she and her husband are well known over there. Rachel Portman wrote the score and this review is part of “Female composer month”. I don’t remember the music from the movie; I only recall a nice feeling. But Rachel Portman rarely disappoints, sometimes I see her as a female John Barry because or her sensitivity and melodic qualities.

The “Main titles” are just what the doctor ordered. The music is right at the edge between feel good light and deep enough to bring a dash of nostalgia. This cue sounds almost renaissance like in its second half and the flute just flutters like a butterfly. Rachel Portman uses the flute precisely for that shadow of melancholy that feels like a summer sunset after a day you did not want to see end. “The story of Grandmere” continues in the same vein. The flute still dominates and sounds very beautiful. I love hearing the flute because it evokes countless nice memories and almost has a hypnotic effect on me. This cue plays just like a story that keeps me interested for its entire duration.

“Vianne sets up shop” explodes in a wonderfully jolly tone and changes the sound with some South American woodwind instruments, the kind you hear in parks from street performers. Those woodwind instruments and the violin dance together and make me want to be there in that happy and light atmosphere. With “Three women” this score slowly cements its identity. There’s always a stride in the music, a jumping and joyful sound that invites you to play with it. Especially when Vianne comes on screen there’s a determination in the music and the orchestra seems to come alive even more.

“Other possibilities” gets more serious and has a couple symphonic surges that always get to me. Add to that the wailing flute and I get one of my favorite cues from “Chocolat”. If used well the flute can convey many different emotions. In “Guillaume’s confession” it’s honest and playful. In “Vienne gazes at the river” is has that Celtic melancholy I long for.

“Passage of time” is a ball room composition that makes me think of a totally different period of France, the times that Balzac used to write about. I almost feel like taking a small bow at the end of this cue. You don’t hear pieces like this in scores very often.

There isn’t a lot of variety in the music of “Chocolat” but it doesn’t matter. It’s all in the small subtle differences, just like in the case of chocolates. When the music is as enjoyable as Rachel Portman’s you don’t need to look for variety or themes. Just like the movie, the music is light and pleasant to the ears and it will leave you with a sweet taste.

Cue rating: 86 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 10 / 35

Album excellence: 28%

Highlights:

Vianne Sets Up Shop

Other Possibilities

Guillaume’s Confession

Passage of Time

Mayan Bowl Breaks

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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