A Magically Real Town
CHOCOLAT takes place in a fairy tale village where the patterns of people's lives were established long before they were born and have changed little from year-to-year, until Vianne Rocher arrives and shatters the tranquil veneer. To capture the essence of what Vianne finds in tiny. charmed Lansquenet, the filmmakers of CHOCOLAT wanted to create a village that would come off as "magically real" -- in other words. they wanted a fable-like town that actually exists, a place with outer charm yet viscerally dark corners within.
After searching the nooks and crannies of Europe's backroads, production designer David Gropman happened upon the medieval French town of Flavigny. Near to Dijon in the Burgundy region, Flavigny dates back to the 10th century. Here, Gropman found a picturesque village set atop a hill, with streams flowing down three sides. But that's not all he found. It turns out Flavigny's main industry is the manufacture of Anis de Flavigny candies, which are renowned around France.
"I liked Flavigny because it wasn't too sugar-coated and prettified, yet it had magic to it." says Gropman. "Wandering through it, I loved the geography the relationship of the buildings. It seemed to perfectly fit the design concept Lasse and I had discussed: emphasizing a simplicity of story-storytelling and the most honest expression."
Another unique aspect of Flavigny was its timelessness. Explains producer David Brown:"When you look out at the countryside here. there are no billboards, no high-rises, no road side businesses. All you see are horses. cows, lambs and real people in an enchanted village. It's an extraordinary atmosphere in which to tell a story."
Given this simple slate upon which to draw. Gropman worked closely with Lasse
Hallstrom putting together a notebook of photographs. drawings and illustrations that might capture the very special visual look and feel of the film. They were particularly influenced by the great French photographers Robert Doisneau and Lilly Ronas. who photographed the extraordinary nature of
ordinary, everyday French life in the 1950s. "There are some great photos of village life in that period. We also had some photos of street festivals in small towns which we were able to completely recreate for the Festival Du Chocolat," says Gropman.
Hallstrom was particularly impressed with David Gropman's ability to bring a sense of the mystical to Vianne's chocolaterie. "David really brings to life the feeling of cocoa's ancient, Mayan legacy and its magical qualities through the design of Vianne's shop and even the look of the chocolates," says the director. "I really have to hand it to him. The coming to life of Lansquenet is his handiwork."
"You walk onto his sets and feel as if a storybook has been brought to life." summarizes Carrie-Anne Moss. who plays the Lansquenet villager Caroline. "They were so beautiful they almost seemed like they had been enchanted by a little of Vianne's magic."
Filming in Flavigny stirred up its own small-town controversies, including a group of monks who had fears about the film's theme of seeking pleasure in this world rather than waiting for the promise of a better one. "Luckily. the mayor and the local priest were both very incredibly supportive and mustered a lot of good will among the locals," notes Alan Blomquist. "The priest even wrote a very funny letter to the monks explaining to them that a film can't be judged just by the script but has to do with the casting, the editing and the execution. We were lucky to have such a cinephile priest!"
Later. when the production had temporarily renovated the town square of Flavigny to become Lansquenet. the cast and crew invited the townsfolk to a party, letting them wander through the fictionalized set. "It was a wonderful experience to see the community of Flavigny take their evening strolls through town with their cameras — looking
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