Director: Roschdy Zem
Running Time: 110 minutes
French drama Monsieur Chocolat follows the story Rafael Padilla (Omar Sy), the first prominent black performer on the French stage. Rafael transitions into the performer Chocolat; part of a famous clown double act, from humble beginnings performing as an exotic black chief named Kananga at the small Delvaux Circus. It is at this circus that the once world famous clown George Foottit (James Thiérrée) takes him under his wing convincing him to become part of a clown double act. Every performance garners praise from the audience with people traveling to the shabby circus to see the duo perform their own style of slapstick-style comedy. Eventually, they are noticed by Joseph Oller, director of the Nouveau Cirque. He makes the pair an offer to perform at his circus and bring their act to the world stage in Paris. George and Chocolat create an act where a silly white clown terrorises a stupid black clown. They play on both their races, making jokes at the expense of the other and acting as the perfect foils for the era. With this fame Chocolat enjoys himself. He splashes out money on flash cars, expensive outfits, women, drinks, and gambling. He also develops a liking for Laudanum to deal with the racism of the Belle Époque era and his roots as the son of a Cuban slave.
While Chocolat is excessive with his wealth and enjoys himself, his partner George is serious, constantly obsessed with his work. There is an indication in the film that George might be gay, but nothing overt to confirm this. Chocolat’s life takes a more serious turn when his former employers reveal to the authorities that he is in France illegally. He is arrested and tortured. After this experience, Chocolat starts to view his audience and performance in a different light. He sees his humiliation on stage as the ‘stupid negro’ is unfair and racist. He is angered by posters portraying him as apelike and starts to challenge the society that gave him his great fame.
This film is beautifully shot and captures the vibrancy of the French Belle Époque. Monsieur Chocolat offers its audience the perfect balance of drama and comedy. It is hard to fault Omar Sy’s performance as Chocolat; he takes every new role in his stride. In Monsieur Chocolat, we see Sy once again display his comedic prowess as he has done in The Intouchables and De l’autre côté du périph. James Thiérrée plays the perfect foil as the depressed George Foottit. One of my favourite performances came from Alex Descas who plays Victor, a prisoner that helps Chocolat when he is thrown into prison. Overall I thought the film was quite a beautiful piece that made me interested to read up on Rafael Padilla. Though the film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I found there was something lacking. If possible I thought there was too little history; I wanted to know more about the pair’s rise to fame. After some research into the life of Rafael Padilla, I feel there could have been more added to create a more succinct plot.