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The Townsfolk

From the beginning, the only person Lasse Hallstrom could envision as the mystical, mysterious single mother Vianne Rocher was Juliette Binoche. "Juliette was always the first choice for us and it was an absolute treat to have this chance to work with her," he says. "Her character is the center of the story, and Vianne must stand for kindness, tolerance and the free-spiritedness of love. Juliette is able to capture this because her approach to her work is to always be emotionally present in the scene. She respects the camera and knows just how little you need to convey a deep emotion. I think she was really able to expand in this role. which is different from anything she's done before."

Juliette Binoche was drawn not only to the character of Vianne. but by the power of the unique mother/daughter relationship between Vianne and her imaginative daughter Anouk. who has grown weary of her mother's persistent travels. "Vianne is a wanderer. and she expects to always keep moving," observes Binoche. "But I don't think she necessarily wants this life. It is pattern inside her and she can't yet pull herself away from it. She has an enormous struggle inside her that many people face: between the way her life was as a child, and the way she wants to live now. It's something we all struggle with — to break from our parents and our past and live our own lives."

She continues: "Despite these conflicts, there is something very essential and pure to the relationship between Vianne and Anouk. It comes from the guts, from the inside and is based on love."

Binoche was also intrigued by Vianne's more magical side — to which she ascribes a rational explanation. "Vianne's magic actually comes from believing that people can change and be happy. Her magic is about liberating people and making them believe in who they are. That really interested me.

Indeed, as Binoche plays Vianne, her powers are just as psychological as they are psychic. But what Vianne doesn't see for a very long time is how the town works its own magic on her. "She spends so much time giving people what they need, that when they give her something back, it comes as a complete surprise," explains Binoche. "Vianne sells small dreams and small comforts that add up to transformation in people's live. But without knowing it, they are able to transform hers just as much."

One of the characters Vianne transforms most dramatically is Josephine, played by Lena Olin. Olin and Binoche previously worked together in Phillip Kaufman's acclaimed "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," and their acclaimed chemistry as complex female friends is captured again in CHOCOLAT. "Unbearable Lightness' was a long time ago and people change, but we still had a real connection," notes Binoche. "It was a great pleasure to work together again."

Lena Olin also happens to be the wife of director Lasse Hallstrom, and CHOCOLAT marks the first time they have worked together on a major feature film. "It was dream-like to work with her." says Hallstrom. "I knew it would be easy and comfortable but I never expected it would be such a high. Seeing her at work and having the give-and-take of ideas was a real kick and an inspiration to us both."

Hallstrom adds: "The role of Josephine is wonderful for Lena because it is so multi-layered and she's great at portraying characters who have a range of qualities. Josephine is eccentric and sensitive but she's also very strong. Lena honors these contradictions and unites them."

The mortal enemy of Josephine's awakening becomes the Comte De Revnaud. who rules the small town of Lansquenet with an abiding sense of moral rigidity. But, as Alfred Molina plays Reynaud. there is much more to him than authority and piety. "Reynaud probably goes through the most cathartic experience in the whole stor

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