MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT is a depressing story of a troubled woman who finds pleasure in doing violence to others under the guise of doing them good. It confirms mankind’s fallen state while offering no comfort nor hope for redemption.
The goal of the director, Claude Chabrol, in making MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT, was to explore a definition of perversity – not at all in a sexual context – offered by a man named Petit Larousse: “A tendency to desire evil, often with a certain pleasure.” Chabrol intended his film to be a “suspense-style quasi-thriller.” Yet, MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT ends up a very predictable and unsatisfying work.
The story opens with the second wedding of Andre Polonski (Jacques Dutronc), a virtuoso pianist, and Mika Muller (Isabella Huppert), a wealthy chocolatier. They had been married once before and divorced when Mika was 18-years-old. Now, she is in her mid-thirties.
After divorcing Mika, Andre married again to a woman named Lisbeth. They had a son together, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly). About 10 years ago, in the context of the film, while Andre was on a concert tour, he was to spend some time in Switzerland. Mika lives in Switzerland so she invited Andre and his new family to stay in her home rather than in a hotel.
On Guillaume’s sixth birthday, while still at Mika’s, Lisbeth ran out to get Andre a refill of his sleeping pill subscription because he literally cannot sleep without them. On her way, she was killed as she drove her car off the curvy mountain road. Andre and his son are still haunted by the question of whether or not she committed suicide. An autopsy reported that they found sleeping pills and alcohol in her stomach, but Lisbeth never took sleeping pills.
Shortly after Andre’s remarriage to Mika, a new woman enters the scene – the young and beautiful concert pianist, Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis). She has been preparing for the upcoming Budapest piano competition. During lunch with her mother, she discovers that, at the time of her birth, she was almost switched with the son of famed concert pianist Andre Polonski. Jeanne finds this fascinating, especially since she is a pianist, and sets off to take advantage of this new information. She goes to the Polonski home and, based on the story of the mix-up, intrudes upon their family. Andre, though sure she is not his daughter, is excited at the possibility of mentoring a wonderful new prodigy. His Gameboy-addicted son, Guillaume, is obviously shaken at the news of the mix-up and jealous of the intruder. Mika remains cordial. She even visits Jeanne’s mother to see what she can do to help the girl.
The intrigue is supposed to begin at the end of Jeanne’s first visit to the Polonski’s. Mika takes her upstairs to view a portrait of Lisbeth. Jeanne looks very much like her. This keeps us guessing as to whether or not Jeanne is indeed Andre’s daughter. While looking at the portrait, in the reflection off the glass covering the picture, Jeanne witnesses Mika doing something rather mysterious: she opens a thermos of hot chocolate, dumps it on the floor and pretends that it was an accident. While helping her to clean it up, Jeanne, thinking the whole incident strange, decides to take advantage of the fact that both her mother and boyfriend are forensic scientists. She takes a sample of the hot chocolate to her boyfriend who performs toxin surveys in her mother’s lab and asks him to run a test on the stain on her sweater.
It seems that there are traces of a sedative, also known to be a date-rape drug, in the hot chocolate. Her boyfriend adds that, since the test has been done on the sly and under unscientific conditions, it can’t be said for sure. This immediately brings into question Mika’s possible involvement in the death of Lisbeth. The next thing you know Mika has invited Jeanne to stay a few days for intensive piano coaching by Andre, who wants very much to help her win the Budapest competition. Every night hot chocolate is served as a nightcap.
As the story progresses, the audience is only left to witness the story’s unfolding rather than to anxiously wonder what will happen next, to whom, and who is going to do it. There is little mystery in how Lisbeth died and who is now in danger. Therefore, the “suspense/thriller” effect is neutralized.
MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT is a depressing movie that reasserts what wicked a level of perversity and denial can lie just beneath the surface in the lives of even the most privileged of people. God’s Word states that “no man is righteous – no, not one,” and that “the heart of man is wicked and deceitful above all else.” Historically, man is capable of the most heinous of acts. It would be nice, for a change, to see a movie that doesn’t simply, redundantly, confirm our fallen state, but affirms that there is a Comforter and Deliverer to be found in the midst of this perverted generation. A Solution is readily available.
(H, B, L, V, S, N, A, DD, M) Humanist worldview investigating people’s tendency to take pleasure in evil with one reference to a situation being in God’s hands; one curse word; car seen crashing into a brick wall with front seat perspective, allusion to past murder and an attempted murder through drugs and driving; implied fornication as young couple flirts in bed and the girl crudely mentions that her mom wouldn’t be very happy to hear he’s been fornicating her daughter; upper male nudity as man comes out of bathroom with towel around his waist and woman wears only his business shirt that shows all of her legs with a slight glimpse of rear nudity; alcohol use; smoking and sleeping pill abuse as main male character can’t sleep without them and allusions to the same pills being used maliciously to spike hot chocolate; and, deceit and mentally disturbed woman.
MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT, a movie by Claude Chabrol, the French master of suspense, focuses on a young woman who, while training for the Budapest piano competition, accidentally discovers a family secret. She finds that she may have been inadvertently switched at birth with the son of a famous piano virtuoso. In an attempt to discover the truth about her origins, she forces her way into the pianist’s family and unwittingly puts herself in mortal danger.
MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT is a depressing story of a troubled woman who finds pleasure in doing violence to others under the guise of doing them good. It reasserts the wicked level of perversity and denial that can lie just beneath the surface in the lives of even the most privileged people. It is clear from God’s Word that “the heart of man is wicked and deceitful above all else.” It would be nice, for a change, however, to see a movie that doesn’t simply and redundantly confirm man's fallen state, but, instead, reaffirms that there is a Comforter to be found in the midst of this perverted generation and that a Solution has been offered.