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  • Colin Fraser


An immigrant finds fame and fortune as a clown in Paris. He also finds racism and despair is not far behind.

Starring Omar Sy and James Thierrée


If there’s any take away from this disarming story about clowning around it is the truism that nothing lasts forever. In some ways it’s even more dispiriting to learn that MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT is closely based on a true story, that the sadness layered over the film was found in fact. Yet in the bleakness can be found a source of inspiration in one man’s struggle to push through adversity. Adverse it was. Rafael Padilla (played here by the always and effortlessly engaging Omar Sy – THE INTOUCHABLES) was a former slave who found work as a circus clown in rural France. A chance encounter propels him and his mentor, the formerly famous George Footit, to find new fame and fortune in Paris of the Belle Epoque. For over two decades, their double-act of man and stooge reinvented what clowning was and what it could be. Yet for Rafael, aka Chocolat, it generally meant subservience and getting his butt kicked. Despite an adoring audience he was plagued by self esteem issues and professional desire. He turned to serious theatre, but his audience didn’t follow. He was a black man in a white city. He turned back to the circus, to the bottle and gambling tables; Chocolat’s trajectory was inevitable. Although it doesn’t sound like it, there’s a lot to like about this gem of a film. Here is a welcome reminder that not all tales have a happy ending, and that not all characters are happy people. Yet in Chocolat was a bedrock of hope and aspiration, exuberance and originality: it is an appealing mix. Beyond that there’s Sy’s glittering performance and the winning style of director Roschdy Zem that brings such complicated themes to a pleasing conclusion.

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