CHOCOLAT: A FILM FOR COACHING

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I watched this film when it came out over 15 years ago and it was one of those experiences that left me so inspired, giving me a warm, happy feeling and faith in the human spirit in ways that is rarely appreciated and promoted in everyday life.

I watched it again with my flatmate again a few weeks ago, and realised how deeply the narrative of the film and the characters were so relevant to my work as a coach and people who would benefit from coaching.

For those who have not seen it, the film is set in a fictional, traditional French village, where the residents obediently follow the Mayor’s (or the Comte’s) strict policy of ‘tranquilité’, in which simple joys, indulgent pleasures and creative expression are suppressed for the safety of a more reserved, restrained and conservative lifestyle.

That is until the mysterious Vianne arrives with her young daughter and opens an exotic Chocolaterie (in the middle of lent no less!), and the residents, including the Comte are suddenly exposed to new and irresistable temptations that most struggle against for fear of the unknown and perceived immorality they can generate. But in the end, after a fascinating conflict of mind and spirit between Vianne and the residents, the town is transformed to accept and embrace soulful joys in balance with a mature respect for long-term responsibility and historical tradition.

What I found most relevant about this film to coaching is the way Vianne is able to connect to the villagers individually and the way she does it. When she invites them into her shop, she uses a mixture of intuition and compassionate, warm engagement to get to the heart of their own unique stories, unravelling their problems and giving them an outlet to transform their lives for the better. Some are very easy to connect with, who are already hungry for an alternative life to the one they have been forced to live: the anxiety-ridden wife of an abusive husband; the cranky grandmother who wants a better relationship with her grandson; the bored housewife who wants more passion in her marriage; the shy, older gentleman who wants to woo and court a long-term grieving widow.

But some villagers are very guarded and suspicious and Vianne uses more long-term, passive and non-direct behaviour to appeal to and reveal their compassionate, loving nature.

Her biggest battle is the Comte, who’s spirit is walled up like a fortress, buried in his history books and obsession to control the village, to avoid the reality that his wife has left him, and not noticing the attention of his awe-filled secretary. His resilience and stubbornness leads Vianne even to doubt herself, as he challenges her own ideologies, causing her to reflect upon her own life and unconventional style of parenting. But eventually they both find a way to a middle ground to relate to and respect each other that, while not perfect, would provide them both with long-term opportunities for inner-development and understanding.

The most cathartic moment in this film for me is when Vianne comes to a point where she is about to give up on the village and move on. She discovers the group of villagers that she has touched and transformed the most, who have sneaked into her Chocolaterie kitchen to prepare for the festival she is about to abandon. She watches in wonder as they work together confidentally and independently with joy and laughter to make the chocolates for the festival in a way that they have never before. When they notice her, they give her reassuring smiles that express a deep gratitude and appreciation for her arrival in their lives.

This for me is a metaphor for the precious moment that I believe all Life Coaches work for. To see their clients, not dependent on coaching, but using crucial newly-found life skills and inner-understanding to be able to positively transform their lives, whether that brings more confidence and joy, or a profound enhancement that they never thought they would see in reality.

If you are ever feeling a need for inspiration, I would recommend indulging in this beautiful, modern fairytale, with an enchanting soundtrack, and fine performances from Juliette Binoche, Jonny Depp, Judi Dench and Alfred Molina.

Take care,

Oliver

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