Chocolat

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Synopsis

A young woman named France (Mireille Perrier) returns to Cameroon to visit the former colonial outpost she grew up in during the last days of French rule. Upon arrival, she recalls her childhood in Mindif. The only child of a sole white family, the Dalens, France forms a strong connection with their ‘houseboy’ Protée (Isaach de Bankolé). A quiet and observant child but still too innocent to fully understand the simmering sexual and racial tensions in the adults around her, France finds her idyl shattered when a plane full of strangers makes an emergency landing nearby.

Claire Denis’ quasi-autobiographical exploration of the colonial power struggle in Cameroon is the first in a series of her films exploring French colonialism and racism in West Africa. A Palme D’Or nominee, Chocolat is a remarkably assured directorial debut featuring all the tension, subtlety and sophistication that characterise Claire Denis’ films, brought to life in a dazzling new 4K restoration.

Picture 9/10

BFI presents Claire Denis’ first feature film, Chocolat, on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from the new 4K restoration, scanned from the original negative.

This looks strong, and it’s a bit of a shame that BFI didn’t put out a 4K UHD for the film. The image is very crisp and clean, thanks to a solid encode. Outside of minor noise and blocking patterns noticeable in the sky occasionally, the grain is rendered cleanly, retaining a natural look. This also holds for fine textures present in the film, from the desert landscape to the walls of the film’s central house. The restoration also cleans up damage significantly, with no significant flaws ever popping up.

Colors may end up being the only questionable aspect. This being an Éclair restoration, the colors push toward teal a bit, as almost all of their restorations seem to do. It’s not glaring, but this makes the colors look a bit washed where they feel they should be bolder and hotter. Of course, I can’t say with any certainty whether this is correct; it just feels off. At the very least, it doesn’t impact black levels or the shadows too much, which still shows a moderate range level without severely crushing out detail.

Colors aside, it’s a gorgeous presentation; the film looks fresh and new.

Audio 7/10

The lossless PCM 2.0 monaural soundtrack sounds great as well. It has been cleaned up substantially and sounds very sharp and clean without any obvious filtering. The film is quiet and not all that showy, but the range is still impressive, with a few louder moments popping up.

Extras 7/10

BFI throws in a handful of supplements, starting with an exclusive audio commentary by Kate Rennebohm. I felt the track began rough and unfocused, but it eventually finds its footing, and Rennebohm walks us effectively through Denis’ first feature. She talks a little about Denis’ background and how her childhood almost certainly influenced this story before talking about the film and the world it presents, breaking down the underlying tensions between race and class depicted in the movie and touching on colonialism and its depiction in cinema through the decades. She also talks about other films that deal with similar topics, whether Denis’ (like White Material) or other filmmakers’, including Ousmane Sembene (Black Girl). On occasion, Rennebohm forgets specific points or has to reference her notes to remind herself of something, suggesting she’s freewheeling it and forgot to touch up on some points beforehand. Still, it’s forgivable and doesn’t impact the flow of the track all that much (I could also sadly relate).

The disc also includes two interviews featuring Denis, one filmed exclusively for this release and another conducted in 2019 with Tricia Tuttle at the BFI Southbank. The new interview runs 18 minutes and features the director discussing the path that led her to make Chocolat and its production in Cameroon. She recounts having to have the house constructed since the proper houses of the period were hard to come by (thanks to air conditioning changing the design) and the stories that inspired moments in the film. She even talks about the new restoration.

The 49-minute Southbank discussion (which was done following a screening of High Life) is more career and life-focused, with Denis talking more about her childhood and parents and her experience in film school. There is a little discussion around Chocolat, but the focus moves quickly to some of her other work, including Beau Travail and High Life. The last third is taken up by questions asked by members of the audience, which include queries about her experience working with Jim Jarmusch on Down By Law, writing Let the Sunshine In, and more. I liked this one a lot: it’s very loose, light, and funny, and the filmmaker is forthcoming about her work.

The disc closes with two trailers (the original followed by one advertising the new restoration), and then a 4-minute animated short directed by Mary Martins entitled Childhood Memories. Created by meshing archival footage with animation, Martins (represented by a stop-motion character) recalls her first childhood visit to Nigeria and meeting her grandmother. It’s a fun and touching piece, further enhanced by a lengthy essay written by Martins, found in the included booklet (alongside photos of her family, including her great-grandmother), where she talks more about her family. The booklet also features an essay on Denis’ Chocolat and its depictions of colonialism and eventual collapse written by Cornelia Ruhe, followed by another essay on the film by Kevin Le Gendre and another focused on Denis’ career, written by Catherine Bray.

All around, it’s a fine set of features that are all worth going through.

Closing

Denis’ film looks excellent, and BFI’s Blu-ray does a beautiful job presenting it alongside decent features—a very easy recommendation.

BUY AT: Amazon.co.uk

 
 
Directed by: Claire Denis
Year: 1988
Time: 105 min.
 
Series: BFI
Release Date: April 29 2024
MSRP: £16.99
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.66:1 ratio
French 2.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region B
 
 Audio commentary by film scholar and critic Kate Rennebohm   Claire Denis à propos de Chocolat (2023, 18 mins): Claire Denis discusses Chocolat and its new restoration   Claire Denis in Conversation (2019, 49 mins): the filmmaker looks back over her career   Childhood Memories (Mary Martins, 2018, 4 mins): a multi-layered autobiographical animation exploring memories of a childhood visit to Lagos, Nigeria   Original theatrical trailer   2023 trailer   **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Illustrated booklet with new essays by Cornelia Ruhe, Catherine Bray and Kevin Le Gendre and writing on Childhood Memories by director Mary Martins