Merci Pour le Chocolat (a.k.a. Nightcap)

Dir: Claude Chabrol, 2000. Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc. French. Foreign/Drama.
Merci Pour le Chocolat (a.k.a. Nightcap)

I must admit this is the first Chabrol film that I have seen, and what a delight it is! Browsing the racks of the Foreign DVDs I couldn’t help but notice how many of his films star the charming Isabelle Huppert (8 to be exact), whose performance as the Yin to Dustin Hoffman’s Yang in I Heart Huckabees took me aback. Coupled with Mark Wahlberg’s role, this was the most enjoyable factor of said film. Back to Merci...

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the plot logistics, so I’ll try and make a good assessment of the main themes. Primarily this film’s story is about trust, deceit, and the malleability of the family unit. It doesn’t tackle these topics with too much severity and, in conjunction with its beautiful locations, soft colors, and hazy look, the whole thing goes down very smoothly, like a warm cup of hot chocolate. I need to hand it to Chabrol for portraying such heavy topics in a light manner, which is a rare feat to pull off.

At the heart of the story is Mika (Huppert), a recently remarried, power-hungry, Munchausen by proxy, syndrome-afflicted CEO of a successful chocolate company. New husband, Andre, is played by '60s pop star Jacques Dutronc. Andre is a widowed, famous, pill-popping concert pianist with a son, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly). Along comes Jeanne (the beautiful Anna Mouglalis) to throw a monkey wrench in their apparently humble family. Armed with a newfound hunch that she might be Andre’s daughter (being a pianist herself reaffirms her belief), she promptly introduces herself and assimilates into their unit. Cliche plot devices abound; all is not as it seems.

Jeanne’s presence brings up the oft proposed question of  "is knowing the truth worth its consequences?” It also raises many questions regarding Andre’s previous wife’s death, why Guillame has ruffies in his chocolate, and who are these teenagers' real parents? The answers play out in a not quite laconic, but relaxed pacing. Buffered with sexual and emotional tension between Guillame/Mika and Andre/Jeanne, drinking chocolate pops up from scene to scene and strings the players along. Around the halfway mark, as a viewer, one is inclined to start playing the guessing game as one would do in any good mystery or spy flick. But Mickey Spillane this is not. Chabrol’s story moves along in much the same style as Bergman’s chamber plots of the mid-60s. The realness of the circumstances slowly increases towards the not spellbinding, but emotionally logical conclusion. Well worth the watch, I plan to frequent the Chabrol catalog in the coming weeks and months.

Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 20, 2009 4:33pm
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