One of my favourite things, my non-guilty pleasure on an evening when I’m all alone is to watch one of two films again and again. Both of these films give me that warm, syrupy feeling inside. Both films have aspects that I find troublesome, neither film is perfect. But I love them both equally. The first one is, ‘You’ve Got Mail’ with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The second one is, ‘Chocolat’, with Juliette Binoche and a whole host of other incredible actors.
You’ve Got Mail appeals to the geeky romantic in me. Meg Ryan owns a children’s bookstore – if I wasn’t a teacher, I know this would have been my second calling. She begins to communicate online with a stranger and falls in love. She doesn’t realise this but her online beau, is her real life nemesis who has opened a massive bookstore opposite her and has no qualms about putting her out of business. Yes, the story has problems. Yes, the ending is hugely unrealistic. But I love it all the same. Isn’t that what films and books are for, after all? To give hope, to show that there can be a happily ever after. That you can find love in the most strangest of circumstances. That nobody is completely black or white – people, love, lives are complicated….
When I put on ‘Chocolat’, I am transported to a completely different world. A world that completely hooks in the Francophile in me. A world of mysticism, chocolate, french food, love. A world before the internet. A world of prejudice. Repressed feelings. Hiding your pain under the cloak of religion. Trying to be a good person by denying yourself pleasure – only to make yourself and everyone else around you miserable. No character is completely faultless and angelic, and no character is completely bad. The flaws in each of these characters is what makes this film so beautiful.
Juliette Binoche is a single mother, she never married – which to everyone who meets her is scandalous! She has a young daughter with whom she travels around, trying to find somewhere to settle. Her daughter, we discover, hates this lifestyle. She just wants to find somewhere to settle down, make friends in a place she can call home. Juliette’s character finds this challenging. It’s in her blood to travel. To be a nomad. When life becomes difficult, the North wind blows – and she takes it as a sign to move on, much to her daughter’s dismay. I love Juliette’s character in this film. She is kind. She is a free spirit. She brings so much joy and happiness to other people’s lives – at the same time feeling so lost and alone – searching for something – but even she doesn’t know what…I love her daughter’s character too. She has an imaginary friend who is a kangaroo – we realise this is because she doesn’t stay anywhere long enough to make proper friends. She is sometimes bullied because of the choices of her brave and unorthodox mother. She longs for stability and a place to call home – but she has no control over her life because she is only a child. It is easy whilst watching this to feel angry with Vianne (Juliette’s character), because you know that her daughter is going through so much pain and you wonder why doesn’t she just stay in one place. Why can’t she just stifle her feelings and desires to make her daughter happy? But that is the point of the story I suppose. You can’t be happy if you live a life of repression. Vianne could have stayed in one place and brought her daughter up there – but she would have been forever vilified for being a single mother. She wanted to open her own business and run a shop with all kinds of chocolate treats – the idea of a woman running that type of business on her own wasn’t palatable for so many people at that time. What would have happened to Vianne if she had just settled and lived a life that wasn’t right for her? Her spirit would have been crushed. She would have been completely miserable and she would not have been able to be the loving mother that her daughter deserved.
If you haven’t watched the film, I do think it’s something you should treat yourself too. Get a warm cup of tea, perhaps a few chocolate treats. Snuggle down and enjoy being transported to a completely different world.
Today’s blog has turned into a bit a of film review, I’m completely aware of that. However, the reason why Chocolat resonates with me so much is because I can relate to Vianne’s nomadic nature, a heck of a lot.
When I used to live in London my friend Pam and I, and even in conversations with my brother, we would talk about how we had a huge disdain for people who martyred themselves. Obviously, we weren’t talking about Joan of Arc and other people who sacrificed themselves for the greater good. We would talk about everyday people, who were miserable in their lives, in their workplaces, or in their relationships – how complaining about their circumstances was more preferable than actually repairing their situation.
I personally don’t believe that I do that. If I think something isn’t right, I will do my best to try and fix the situation. I’ll speak directly to the relevant people and hopefully things can be sorted and fixed. But if they can’t – if I feel that I am not valued, or appreciated, respected or listened to – the nomad in me will think, that’s fine, the North wind has blown. It’s time to move on.
You see, a bit like Vianne, I believe that life is too short to be miserable. To deny yourself happiness. To let anyone crush your spirit. That’s not living. That’s simply being alive. I understand that on the flip side, there may be difficulties and struggles that prevent you from just moving on. Life isn’t as simplistic as that. I know that. Throughout my life, I’ve had to make difficult decisions. Doing things that have gone against the grain. Making decisions that others may have thought were unwise. I am fortunate though, that I have family around me that have allowed me to make unorthodox decisions. Who didn’t care about putting society first. Society doesn’t feed or clothe you, or wipe your tears when you’re full of despair.
Living your life to make society happy – and crushing yourself in the interim isn’t a good way to live. We are only here for a brief period. A blink of an eye – and then you’re gone. Who will remember that you sacrificed yourself for the sake of duty? For the sake of pleasing others? No one will remember. No one will care.
Just live and let others live. Meanwhile, drink tea, watch films and eat a good dose of chocolate!