Film review

Her view­ing this month takes TV3’s movie ex­pert Kate Rodger to the cir­cus in France in the late 1800s, to learn the story of an in­ter-racial clown dou­ble-act.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - FILM MAKER - Mon­sieur Cho­co­lat Di­rected by Roschdy Zem. Star­ring Omar Sy and James Thier­rée. [In French with English sub­ti­tles.]

In the month of Bastille, let’s cel­e­brate French cin­ema with a film from Roschdy Zem and star­ring The In­touch­ables’ stand­out Omar Sy. This is the true story of cel­e­brated French clowns Foot­tit and Cho­co­lat, who took Parisian high so­ci­ety by storm in the late 1800s. It’s a story of hopes and dreams, em­pow­er­ment and sub­ju­ga­tion, and of in­her­ent, open, institutionalised, un­ques­tion­able racism.

The story be­gins in a small coun­try cir­cus where the main at­trac­tion is Kananga the Cannibal – a fierce, ter­ri­fy­ing, black sav­age from deep­est Africa. It’s a per­for­mance Rafael (Omar Sy) doesn’t par­tic­u­larly en­joy but, like they say, it pays the rent. When fad­ing star Ge­orge Foot­tit sees him per­form, on the look­out for some­thing or some­one to spruce up his own act, he sees some­thing else in Kananga; he sees “Cho­co­lat”, a clown.

They will take the lit­tle cir­cus by storm, and very soon will be plucked from the prov­inces and onto the stages of Paris.

Their re­la­tion­ship is the back­bone of the film, and it’s com­pli­cated. Foot­tit en­forces his role as teacher, but it feels like trainer. He’s the boss, but it feels like master. He knows their suc­cess de­pends on them both work­ing to­gether as a team, but the more that suc­cess and fame grows, the big­ger im­pact it has on them – es­pe­cially Rafael.

This is a sad, dark, true story – the tears of a clown can be a ter­ri­ble thing. Cho­co­lat’s fight to be treated as an equal will take a life­time, and not just his, and con­fronting his own in­ner demons is just as big a fight.

So while this story is clearly wor­thy of the telling, what the film ul­ti­mately lacks is con­fi­dence. It feels al­most too small for the story and fails to re­ally pick up mo­men­tum and grab the au­di­ence. Im­por­tant enough to tell, it is, un­for­tu­nately, not told mem­o­rably enough to have a last­ing im­pact. I found my­self los­ing in­ter­est in parts, chal­leng­ing my com­mit­ment.

So it came down to Foot­tit and Cho­co­lat to save the day. Their per­for­mances are ex­cel­lent, both main play­ers in­hab­it­ing their dual roles of man and clown with pas­sion and re­straint – in fact James Thier­rée won the César this year for Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor for his role.

The clown acts them­selves are of their time but feel fresh, de­liv­ered with en­ergy and joie de vivre, a re­minder of the beauty in the art of clowning around.

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