Monsieur Chocolat is 119 minutes of pure raw energy, emotion and captivating performances that force us to notice and examine the good and evil of humanity and the power of the creative mind. Monsieur Chocolat is a moving, real life and heart felt story of the rise and fall of France’s first self emancipated slave and African-Cuban artist of the circus and stage. Director Roschdy Zem masterfully evokes the Belle Epoch era and magically highlights this beautiful, enlightened age and the bohemian life of Paris in a time where the underbelly of Paris was portrayed in Toulouse-Lautrec paintings and the dark side of humanity hid behind velvet curtains and lurked in the darkest of alleys. The Belle Epoch may have been a beautiful age for the wealthy and elite, however, Zem forces us to come to terms with the intense poverty and injustices of the time and of white supremacy and black oppression and the inequality that was prevalent and of which Europe was not immune to.
The superbly talented and charasmatic Omar Sy of The Intouchables and Demain Tout Commence breathes life into his energetic and brilliant portrayal of circus performer Chocolat (aka Rafael Padilla) whose chance meeting at a Provincial circus with an established performer George Footit, played by the remarkable James Thierrée (Charlie Chaplin’s relation), changes the course of his life forever. Footit arrives at a point in his career when he realises that he will need to breath new life into his tired routine in order to acquire work and notices the attention grabbing Chocolat who made a living at the time playing a larger than life Cannibal named Kalanka. Footit is taken by Chocolat’s stage presence and warm hearted nature and creates a new and never tried before routine taking Chocolat under his wing. After many challenging hours of rehearsing and perfecting the art of slap stick comedy the dynamic duo achieve wonders and find success in Paris’ avant guard Nouveau Circque where they would both catapult to stardom and become a significant page in France’s performance arts and cinema history. However, the dark side of fame and struggle of the human ego eventually takes hold of Chocolat and Footit but affects Chocolat more severely as he attempts to challenge and push through the white supremacy boundaries and inequalities of French society only to be shamed and pushed back to poverty and the Provinces. After his death, Chocolat would be forever immortalised in early day cinema by the genius Lumiere brothers and revered for his efforts as the comical side kick of Footit who paved the way for the less privileged on film and the stage. Monsieur Chocolat is a magnificent example of a film where the chemistry of a remarkable story, talented performers, a great director, French language and culture come together to produce an outcome of mind blowing, memorable and powerful cinema.