There is a film called “Chocolat,” released in 2000, about how a new chocolatier in a small French town brings a little sweetness—and even a little love—into the lives of everyone it touches. Lots of people saw it, mostly on dates, and it was nominated for some Oscars, and Johnny Depp was in it. There is a film called “Chocolat”, released in 1988, that you probably don’t want to confuse with the other “Chocolat”: it’s about race and sex and love and hatred, and is set in Cameroon, in that country’s French colonial period. Not that many people saw it, and it didn’t get nominated for any Oscars (though it was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes), and it’s not a good date movie, but it is a good movie, and it launched the career of its French director, Claire Denis.
Denis has gone on to make a number of films grappling with France’s—and the West’s— colonial past, notably the Melville reworking “Beau Travail” and 2009’s “White Material.” Denis has also made a number of dramas of disturbing interpersonal relations, microcosms of the national relationships her post-colonial work explores: films like “Nenette and Boni” and her bleak, vicious, fascinating gender-fuck of an erotic horror film “Trouble Every Day.”
Denis showed another film at Cannes this year, “Bastards,” which has an imminent French release, though not yet a U.S. one. But In the meantime, however, here is an extensive conversation between critic Eric Hynes and Denis at the Walker Arts Center last fall. It’s an in depth, career-spanning discussion that finds Denis, in her modest, reflective way, unspooling her thoughts on her own African childhood, multilingual and multinational film-making, and the role of music in the movies. For fans of her work it’s a must watch—enjoy.