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A Chocolate Initiation

Like the characters in CHOCOLAT. chocolate itself takes on many different characteristics as the tale deepens: it can be devilish in its allure, compel blissful joy or comfort harrowing sorrows. Throughout. it is a catalyst for change. and because of that it becomes a danger and a threat to the status quo. To better understand the ways in which chocolate has long been associated with both power and pleasure. Juliette Binoche literally became a student of the dark, bitter and semi-sweet. heading off to chocolate cooking school.

"I have always loved chocolate but in CHOCOLAT, chocolate becomes more than just a sweet taste. It becomes a gesture towards others or towards yourself, a sort of compassion. It is a wonderful symbol for the exchange of gifts — emotions. honesty, caring — between people." says Binoche.

Binoche journeyed to several highly regarded French chocolateries and studied with the chocolate specialist Walter Bienz in preparation for playing the chocolate magician Vianne. She also sampled confections from the four corners of the earth, and read about chocolate's Mayan origins as the "food of the gods."

"In the beginning I asked Joanne Harris why she had chosen chocolate as Vianne's method and she explained that it has a long history as something that has been shared around the world." says Binoche. "This interested me. There is chocolate in Asia. Africa and South America, yet I discovered each tastes a little different, and each seems to bring its own special energy.

Consultant Walter Bienz concurs. "I have always believed chocolate has power. It is certainly an aphrodisiac and it can bring emotions to the fore — after all. everyone goes a little mad for chocolate." Bienz also taught Juliette Binoche how to physically handle chocolate confections — the shapes. the consistencies, the various types of candy formations. "There are at least fifty different types of chocolate and what you create depends on what you use and at what temperature." notes Bienz. "There is a real art to it."

Binoche immediately took to stirring, heating and testing. "I so enjoyed working with the chocolate." she admits. "There's a fascination in seeing these dark, fluid rivers of chocolate and knowing how to turn them into all kinds of different delights."

"Walter Bienz gave us all a sense of how sensual the experience of chocolate can be." adds Leslie Holleran. "He quite literally swoons for the subject and is philosophical about it. You come away from talking with him thinking chocolate can change your life. You feel like popping this magical candy into your mouth is going to set you free."

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