If you’ll remember, I had issues with the book, mostly with the Reynaud-Vianne narration, as well as their conflict. I also wondered how the movie handled the situations book (in this case, I had seen the movie first, but had no recollection of it). Karma/the planets/my Netflix queue finally aligned and I watched the movie last week.
And I think my friend is right: in many ways, it is better. They changed a lot of the plot and characters, adding and subtracting at will. Reynaud is no longer the priest, but rather the mayor, which makes a certain amount of sense. He’s no longer the obsessed man of the church protecting his flock, but a conflicted, obsessed mayor afraid of the unknown and hell-bent on protecting his town. This change made a world of difference in both the conflict between him and Vianne, as well as the basic narration of the story: it made it better, more centered.
Then there was the adding and subtracting: Caro lost her husband (which opened up a sub-sub-plot between her and Reynaud), Charley’s owner gained a love interest (which I thought suited him nicely), the priest became a young, impressionable man, and Roux gained an Irish accent (and the rest of the gypsies faded into the background). The time period was the same — Lent — but it felt different, longer somehow.
I also think the movie did a better job with the magical realism: they changed the story of Vianne’s mother, adding a twist or two that lended itself to a more magical aspect than Vianne’s twisted and tortured relationship with her mother in the book. I still missed the evocative nature of food; even though there were lush shots of chocolate, it just didn’t quite soar.
As for the actors: I admit that I really liked them. Alfred Molina was perfectly obnoxious and obsessive as Reynaud, and Juliette Binoche was perfect as Vianne, as was Johnny Depp as Roux. However, I think I liked the supporting characters more: Judy Dench as Armand and Lena Olin as Josephine were both wonderful to watch. But I think Victoire Thivisol captured Anouk best. She was a delight every time she was on the screen. In a character-driven story as this one, it was essential that they found good actors to embody the parts. And in that, they succeeded exceptionally.
Verdict: the movie is so different it’s almost like comparing apples to oranges, but I enjoyed it more.