Much has been said about the film Chocolat (Claire Denis, 1988), but I find this scene towards the ending so indelible and powerful: when one night in 1960s Cameroon Protée, working as a houseboy for a French colonial administrator and his wife, and a babysitter to their daughter (interestingly named France), was visited by the child at the outdoor shed.
This is a poignant scene: throughout the film Protée and France shared a tender friendship – more like kinship, with Protée being the older brother-slash-protector. However, his recent demotion by France’s mother – from houseboy to garage mechanic – took all that away, and France’s visit reads to me as about making amends for her mother.
At the shed, France meekly approached. Out of curiosity, she asked Protée about the generator’s pipes: “Does it burn?” As was his character, Protée held the pipe tight without a word, as if a dare, and so did France, who immediately pulled her hand back as soon as her skin hissed. It stung – her soft face was about to cry. Cut to the scene of Protee’s hand shaking from his self-inflicted burn. Cut to Protée taken aback with his faceless expression save for a miniscule twinge in his eyes – which could be read as guilt, for having fooled France, for having even thought of the dare as revenge to Aimee, for the unrequited love that’s left inexpressible, unsaid. Cut to Protée walking slowly towards the pitch-black night. For a central figure throughout the film the conclusion on Protée was abrupt, which made it more unsettling. It spoke volumes.
The entire film happened during a young-adult France visiting Cameroon after her family left. I remember her saying that there was no purpose to her visit, but I’m left to think that searching for Protée was one of them.