Before she struck out on her own, Claire Denis worked as an assistant for such A-listers as Wim Wenders, Jacques Rivette, and Jim Jarmusch. The influence of those mentors is apparent in Chocolat, Denis' debut feature, but it's the singularity of her organic vision that is most impressive. Set largely in the West African colony of Cameroon in the 1950s, Chocolat is a lush, if enigmatic, portrait of the colonial experience. In the waning days of French rule, a district officer (François Cluzet) presides over a rural outpost, living quietly with his wife, Aimée (Giulia Boschi), and little daughter, France (Cécile Ducasse). One day, the officer is called away on business, leaving Aimée and France to fend for themselves, with the aid of their houseboy, Protée (Isaach de Bankolé). A hushed drama of racial and sexual tension soon builds between Protée and Aimée, illuminating the perversion of human dynamics that colonialism breeds. Framed by the wanderings of a grown-up France (Mireille Perrier) in present-day Cameroon, Chocolat feels like an autobiographical work; the movie's sensory delights are so specific that they have the whiff of nostalgia. Its interrogation of cross-cultural dysfunction and the colonialist legacy notwithstanding, Chocolat's foremost pleasures are visceral. Denis, even at this early stage, already seems attuned to film's power to suggest and seduce. Her debut emanates the effortless sensuality and sinewy elegance that have come to mark her movies, making it a sterling introduction to her cinema of sensation.