Chocolat is the biographical story of one of the earliest successful black entertainers in modern France. The clown Chocolat (real name Rafael Padilla) was very successful at the end of the 19th century. In the film we see Rafael/Chocolat (popular French actor Omar Sy) performing as a stereotypical cannibal named Kananga, complete with tiger skins and bones and teeth necklace, as a freak show in a second-rate circus in 1897. Then white clown George Foottit (circus performer James Thierrée, the grandson of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and the great-grandson of American playwright Eugene O‘Neill) sees Kananga and has a brilliant flash. He wants to pair the taciturn, authoritative white clown and the gentler and comic Auguste clown. They become a hit and move to Paris to the more renown Nouveau cirque. There are obvious racist elements in their acts. It shows Chocolat being kicked or slapped and acting like a stupid fool. Several times Chocolat tries in vain to fight that stereotype as best he can. Chocolat spends his money gambling, drinking and womanizing. We get flashbacks to his childhood as a slave in Cuba and when he escapes to come to France. Because he does not have any papers he gets arrested, even if he is a famous entertainer, and sent to prison where he is tortured. Finally released, he returns to the circus. He meets Marie, a nurse, and they falls in love. As for Foottit, the film does not tell us much about his private life, but at some point the goes into a gay bar (My research shows that he was married with four kids. Nothing about a double life as a gay man). Most of the time he seems unhappy about something. Despite great performances by the two main actors and production values of the highest qualities, Chocolat suffers from the fictionalization of events. Why? Because reality would be boring, and the filmmakers are aiming for a bigger dramatic punch. Better to have a falsity you can control, than a reality that would be too controlling. So, very few details from Chocolat and Foottit’s lives remain. But it is still a good juicy part for Omar Sy, who impressively matches Thierrée’s choreography. They have obviously carefully studied Chocolat and Foottit’s classic routines. Good job.
Based on Chocolat, clown nègre. L’histoire oubliée
du premier artiste noir de
la scène française by Gérard Noiriel
Alice de Lencquesaing
In French with English subtitles.