Discuss some of the ways in which Claire Denis’s Chocolat uses familiar techniques in cinema to comment upon the relationship between the French Colonials and the native African inhabitants of French Cameroon. i
The theme’s of colonisation and neocolonialism that are the driving force behind Claire Denis’s masterpiece Chocolat, can be highly attributed to her own personal experiences whilst spending her childhood in colonial Africa. Albeit a child, Denis’s complete immersion into colonial life at this point, has had great influence on her later works, with her characters consistently being confronted by prejudice and cultural and social alienation. Denis particularly excels at demonstrating the relationship and difference in status between the French Colonials and their “inferior” counter-parts, the native African inhabitants of French Cameroon. This toxic relationship is portrayed by extensive use of cinema techniques, such as mise-en scène, camera work, sound and lighting. Through such techniques she perfectly reflects the segregation both social and physical, of the two classes, the exploitation of the Cameroonians, and intrinsically woven of relations and power hierarchy between the individual Cameroonians and Colonials. The long lasting affect of colonisation is also a very poignant message throughout the piece, even when skipping into the future we see a Cameroon that cannot fully shake it’s Colonial past.
As soon as the film begins through Denis’s understated use of camera work, we are immediately made aware of the separation between the different races in modern day post-colonial Cameroon. The shot begins with France sitting on one side of the beach, upright and proper. As we follow her gaze as the camera pans out all the way along the beach to where Mungo and his son are lying flat on the ground, at one with the Earth. Through this initial long shot, demonstrating the physical distance between France and Mungo, as the camera stretches along the seemingly never ending beach, we are made aware of the inferred symbolic meaning: the distance between them is more than purely spatial. They are separated by racial and cultural ties. This separation is what keeps France fascinated by Mungo and his child as they lap up the waves, and also what stops her from approaching them. She knows there are boundaries due to race that cannot be crossed.
When we are first introduced to Protée, due to mise-en-scène and the framing of the shot, we are instantly aware of his relationship to the other characters and status in the household hierarchy. Denis positions Protée at the back of the truck, we are made aware that he is considered to be inferior by the other adult characters, as although he is a full grown man, he is not deemed worthy of a seat and is therefore made to compromise his dignity. In this same scene we are given our first insight into the relationship of France and Protée as they both share one frame. This shows that despite the fact she is a little girl and he is an adult male, they still are equals. As the film progresses we see a change develop, when Protée talks to the scribe, France is positioned high up on her donkey over looking him, and the shift of power changes as she commands him to come back, humiliating him. We see that the longer she spends in colonial lifestyle the more aware she becomes in the differences between race, putting a strain on their relationship.
Claire Denis uses techniques such as lighting and mise-en-scène to show that the Cameroonian characters have a poor relationship with the Colonials. On several occasions the lighting and positioning of characters in a scene shows he colonials exerting their so called ‘superiority’ over the colonials, for example the scene on the porch when Luc is eating with the house staff, they all remain seated on the floor, in almost utter darkness. In contrast Aimée is positioned far away from them on the lit porch, standing above them all,...
Claire Denis (dir.), Chocolat (1988)
Dr Diana Sandars, ‘Chocolat Review’
http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/cteq/chocolat-2/[accessed 24 October 2013]
Hilary Neroni, ‘Lost in the Interracial Fields of Desire (Chocolat, 1988)’ http://www.kinoeye.org/03/07/neroni07.php [accessed 24 October 2013]
Blandine Stefanson ‘Chocolat Review’ http://raffaelecaputo.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/chocolat-an-interview-with-claire-denis/ [accessed 24 October 2013]
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