Outside of a couple of small roles in Hollywood blockbusters X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World, I’d only ever seen Omar Sy in Intouchables, which was excellent, and in which he was excellent. He is also excellent in Monsieur Chocolat (not to be confused with the 2000 film Chocolat, which is unrelated. Entirely.).
Based on a true story (quite loosely, according to my very limited amount of research), Monsieur Chocolat tells the story of a black man (Chocolat) who serves as a circus’ “cannibal” before agreeing to partner with a famous, though struggling, clown named Foottit, in doing so becoming the first black clown to head an act in France. Their partnership quickly garners the attention and adoration of the country, and they’re recruited into Paris’ Nouveau Cirque, where their fame only continues to grow.
The performances by Sy and his counterpart James Thiérrée (playing George Foottit) are captivating as the two men show us a relationship where both parties care deeply for each other even as they resent their mutual reliance. While we do get a taste for Foottit’s own struggles outside of the circus, the majority of the film focuses on Chocolat’s adjustment to the big city and the people who live in it. While he is ecstatic about how much money he is making and loves the spotlight, he lets fame go to his head, develops a gambling problem (when he’s not wasting all of his money on trivial purchases), and endures the racism that comes from all directions, even from his most devoted fans. Eventually he decides on a bold change of career.
Where the film let me down was in its disjointedness; the film leaps ahead many times, as biopics are wont to do. However, each time we leap ahead, the film leaves behind an element of the story, never to be seen again. We are left to assume, I suppose, that the problems still present at the culmination of one time-period have been settled by the time the next begins. This is a film without any sense of resolution, which, while adding to its tragic nature, also left me feeling unsatisfied as the credits began to roll. What happened to all of the other characters we met along the way? Why make such a big deal out of them if they mattered so little to the story?
Outside of the performances, which, again, were stellar, I also very much enjoyed the music, editing and cinematography. The film was put together very well in all technical aspects, even utilising some archive footage right at the end which was very touching.
I’m not sure that it’s a film I’d recommend to the everyday movie-goer, due to its confusing story line-abandonment and its general deviation from historical fact, but it is one that I’d recommend to fans of Omar Sy (and James Thiérrée, who, by the way, is the grandson of Charlie Chaplin, and this adds another element of entertainment to his physical antics). Monsieur Chocolat is a poignant tragedy about the rise and fall of an incredibly gifted individual and the partner with whom he shared fame.