Primarily set in Cameroon during the last days of French rule. CHOCOLAT is seen through the eyes of France, the little daughter of a sole white family stationed in a remote colonial outpost. With precious little to do despite her privileged childhood, France bonds with a native servant while remaining unaware of unfolding sexual and racial tensions.

The film begins in the present day (1988) Africa, where France Dalens (Mireille Perrier), a young white tourist, hitchhikes and is offered a lift by a black man and his son, although they too turn out to be tourists – he’s from the USA and wants to find out more about his roots. During small talk, France mentions she’s on her way to a place called Mindif, without giving any reason. After the brief prologue, the actual story starts in the aforementioned Mindif at the very beginning of the 1960s, possible even a couple of years before. Little France (now played by Cécile Ducasse) and her parents drive along a dusty road, accompanied by native manservant Protée (Isaach de Bankolé) and another native servant. Stopping for break, father Marc (Francois Clouzet) rests in the sunshine while mother Aimée (Giulia Boschi) sits at the back of the land rover preparing what looks like sliced bread with cream cheese on top – unaware that Protée takes France by the hand and leads her to a spot near the road seemingly crawling with ants… before picking up some ants one by one with his fingers and placing them on top of the cream cheese sandwich, before handing it to France who devours it with an appetite. Quite what type of ants they are we don’t find out, nor the significance of the ritual or indeed the nutritional factor, however, what this scene establishes is the complete trust the little girl has in Protée. Bon appétit!

Back at the house, the Dalens go about their business (not that there is much to do) and shortly after, Marc is called away on Government business, entrusting Protée with looking after his wife and daughter. Ever the obedient wife, Aimée is clearly bored and not too happy either, especially because there’s bugger all to do and any exciting events are far and few between. France, meanwhile, finds plenty of entertainment: riding on donkeys, teaching Protée French words (who in turn teaches her words in his native language) or playing in her room when not learning this, that or the other. Protée is the perfect servant: attentive, discreet, polite and well-mannered who gets on well with co-workers and those around him. Not only does he take price in his job but despite his status, he is a proud man.

However, not all is as well and as harmonious as it seems. Aimée has a mighty go at the cook for always dishing up English-inspired cuisine (clearly his former employers were an English family), in particular Yorkshire puddings, which she loathes! She orders him to focus on French cuisine and hisses that all he has to do is look into the French cookbook on the shelf, after all, there’s plenty of recipes to choose from. Until it transpires that he cannot actually read and only looks into the book as some sort of prayer to ensure all the dishes he cooks turn out ok, prompting Protée to burst into laughter when the cook quits there and then. To add to Protée’s amusement, some days later an English Government employee, a friend of her husband’s, arrives and mon dieu, how to whip up English dishes now? It also becomes evident that there are underlying sexual tensions between Aimée and Protée, especially when she asks him to lace up an evening dress she has decided to wear in honour of the English guest. Confused by the entire situation, Protée obliges but then leaves the room, only too aware of his status and the colour of his skin. Even in a later scene, when she sits on the floor next to a curtain, she gently touches his leg as he walks in though he reacts in the same manner as before, namely by not responding to her obvious desire for the obvious reasons. Unfortunately, his professional attitude backfires when Aimée asks her husband to send him away upon his return without stating any specific reason, obviously. However, Marc does not send Protée away as he thinks he’s a very good servant. Instead, he demotes him to henceforth working in the garage.

Days pass and finally a bit of excitement occurs, namely when a small airplane is forced to make an emergency landing due to problems with the propeller and the Dalens’ household is suddenly lively with stranded passengers. One of them, a young man called Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin) is a real loudmouth and a racist on top of it and Aimée flirts discretely with him whenever Protée is around to create some sort of jealousy… and succeeds – culminating in a fight. Meanwhile, little France is thankfully oblivious to all that’s going on in the adult world around her and she continues her friendship with Protée, despite his demotion.

This is a very subtle movie by any stretch of the imagination in which a hefty melodramatic approach would be misplaced. The interactions between the adults, and Frances’ observations of the adults around her are more than enough to demonstrate underlying passions but also underlying racial tensions.

Extras on this Blu-ray release are:
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) / Childhood Memories (Mary Martins, 2018, 4 mins): a multi-layered autobiographical animation exploring memories of a childhood visit to Lagos, Nigeria / Original and 2023 theatrical trailer / Illustrated booklet (first pressing only).