Merci pour le chocolat
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 June 2002

28th Seattle International Film Festival

In Merci pour le chocolat (Nightcap), Huppert re-teams with one of her favorite directors, the legendary Claude Chabrol, to play out a different interpretation of repression and madness. Huppert plays the icily dignified Marie-Clare ("Mika") Muller, heiress to a Swiss chocolate company fortune. On the surface, her life is nothing but paradise: her company is a success, allowing her to donate generously to her dearest social causes, and she is a respected businesswoman, not a mere figurehead. She has been able to remarry her ex-husband, André Polanski (Jacques Dutronc) eighteen years after they divorced. Now Mika, André, and his eighteen-year-old son from his second marriage, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly) are now comfortably ensconced in Mika's mansion in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Problems begin, however, when a young woman named Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis) becomes aware of the rumor that she and Rodolphe, both born in the same hospital, might have been switched at birth. Intrigued, she seeks him out and discovers André. André, in turn, is impressed by the promise she shows as a pianist, and he encourages her to come by regularly for training. Mika seems content with this arrangement, even encouraging, but Jeanne can't shake a sense of suspicion about Mika. Jeanne's suspicions are confirmed when, one night, Mika spills some of the hot chocolate she had prepared for Guillaume. Jeanne has it tested, only to discover that it has been laced with a narcotic. When she informs Guillaume of the test results, he brushes them off, until he recalls that his mother had drunk some of Mika's special nightcap before she was killed in a car crash…

In this, his fifty-third film, Chabrol, like Hitchcock, further reworks the theme of psychological tension that is his trademark. Here, his emphasis upon framing a majority of shots in a medium-long to medium close-up range fixes everything at a merciless remove; the audience's gaze begins as that of a voyeur, then shifts to that of a jury, judging every element with mistrust. The audience is now always on edge, waiting for the next gesture or element to emerge from the clinically cold, but evil, surfaces that comprise Mika and her house.

Without a strong actress in the role of Mika, the entire film would fold in upon itself. Chabrol, however, placed his trust in Huppert for the fourth time, and she has repaid him fully. Her interpretation of Mika is so unquestionably flawless, both because of her acting skills and that milky-skinned, angular face; at the center of Mika's perfect face and demeanor lies a mirror that deflects attention from her homicidally ruthless streak -- until it is (perhaps?) too late. As with her performance in The Piano Teacher, Huppert projects a quietly unrepentant sense of menace, but one with an ostensible core of vulnerability that adds to her mystery, especially when, as in this case, the audience isn't given many details about her character's psychological state. Is Mika merely a sociopath who is unable to effectively conceal her criminal actions, or is she simply so desperate for life on her own terms that she'll do anything in order to achieve it? This is the situation that drives Chocolat (and its audience) through to its final, tension-laden, frames. 

Seattle International Film Festival Coverage:



Directed by:
Claude Chabrol

Isabelle Huppert
Jacques Dutronc

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet
been rated.





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