Re­views of Mon­sieur Cho­co­lat and Paris Can Wait.

A biopic about a cir­cus star is brought to life by its leads and their grand phys­i­cal­ity.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents -

RE­VIEW — GEMMA GRACEWOOD MON­SIEUR CHO­CO­LAT Di­rected by Roschdy Zem Opens June 29

You may never have heard of Cho­co­lat, but if you have trav­elled in France or are a fan of La Belle Époque im­agery, you al­most cer­tainly will have seen his im­age: a grotesque, ex­ag­ger­ated black clown with a red tuxedo, white-gloved hands and huge lips.

He was a Parisian su­per­star at the turn of last cen­tury, one half of the clown duo Foot­tit et Cho­co­lat, who head­lined the Nou­veau Cirque, an up­scale cir­cus owned by a co-founder of the Moulin Rouge.

Cuban-born of an African slave, Rafael Padilla was him­self taken as a slave to Spain. He made his way to France where, as the film tells it, he was dis­cov­ered by Ge­orge Foot­tit work­ing in a grubby, provin­cial cir­cus as a “scary African na­tive”, Kananga. In the com­pet­i­tive world of clown­ing, Foot­tit sees dol­lar signs in the unique pair­ing of a black-and-white clown duo, re­names Rafael “Cho­co­lat”, and trains him in the art of the prat­fall.

French film star Omar Sy (the stun­ning lead of The In­touch­ables) and Char­lie Chap­lin’s grand­son, cir­cus hero James Thier­rée, are an ex­hil­a­rat­ing pair as Cho­co­lat and Foot­tit, one of the first duos to es­tab­lish the clas­sic con­cept of “white clown and au­guste”, a yin-yang part­ner­ship of up­tight, tra­di­tional clown with hap­pier, clum­sier, lower-sta­tus fool. Mon­sieur Cho­co­lat comes alive dur­ing their scenes to­gether, the grand phys­i­cal­ity of their com­edy off­set by back­stage bick­er­ing and un­spo­ken un­hap­pi­ness.

The biopic is a prob­lem­atic favourite among film gen­res. On one hand, a qual­ity bi­o­graph­i­cal drama is a sump­tu­ous mix of pe­riod de­tail, at­mo­spheric charm and Wikipedia high points, ideally with a sat­is­fy­ing turn by a mega-star in the ti­tle role. On the other, biopics are too of­ten sani­tised, on­ceover-lightly in­spi­ra­tional quote-fests, filmed in a gently

Cho­co­lat turns to gam­bling and lau­danum to keep him­self en­ter­tained. The de­scent is heart­break­ing.

plod­ding way.

All of the above is true of Mon­sieur Cho­co­lat, but by virtue of its sub­ject it is also very provoca­tive and ut­terly res­o­nant. In an al­ter­nate uni­verse, this film may have ended at the height of Cho­co­lat’s fame, prais­ing the peo­ple who plucked him from ob­scu­rity and the Parisian so­ci­ety that el­e­vated a for­mer slave to a cir­cus su­per­star.

But Mon­sieur Cho­co­lat al­lows for a deeper look at things. With no­body to em­pathise with him, and his am­bi­tions sup­pressed by a so­ci­ety that is happy to have him play the fool but no more, Cho­co­lat turns to gam­bling and lau­danum to keep him­self en­ter­tained. The only way is down, and the de­scent is heart­break­ing.

Anne doesn’t ap­pear to have a lot of agency; ‘find­ing hap­pi­ness’ ap­pears to be de­fined as ‘choos­ing be­tween two men’.

PARIS CAN WAIT Di­rected by Eleanor Cop­pola Opens July 20

Eleanor Cop­pola, ma­tri­arch of the fa­mous film fam­ily, has an abun­dance of skills: paint­ing, cos­tume mak­ing, sculp­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy, moth­er­ing, mul­ti­ple pub­li­ca­tions of her notes and jour­nals. Now, at the news­wor­thy age of 81, the straight-talk­ing, no-bull­shit mem­ber of the fam­ily has fi­nally di­rected her own fea­ture.

It’s tempt­ing to see some­thing au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal in the set-up, be­gin­ning as it does at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Cop­pola cer­tainly knows her sub­ject. Anne (Diane Lane) is mar­ried to Michael (Alec Baldwin), a ter­ri­bly busy and rather miserly film pro­ducer who can’t seem to pri­ori­tise their mar­riage. When an ear­ache pre­vents her from fly­ing with Michael to a film shoot in Bu­dapest, a pro­duc­ing part­ner of his, Jac­ques (Ar­naud Viard), of­fers to drive Anne to Paris, where Michael will meet her later. Jac­ques, a de­vi­ously cheer­ful French play­boy, takes the long way round, lead­ing Anne on a glut­tonous odyssey of food­porn hot spots.

Along the way, there’s a pre­dictable cul­ture clash be­tween the way­ward French­man and the up­tight femme Améri­caine, as Jac­ques ha­rasses Anne about her mar­riage and tries to get her to loosen up. He’s ac­tu­ally a bit of a dick and even though Anne is aware enough to give him the side-eye, it’s kind of of­fen­sive to watch these white up­per-class folk fill their faces while com­plain­ing about their lives. On the other hand, hap­pi­ness and what con­sti­tutes it are al­ways top­ics worth be­ing in­ter­ro­gated, and money can cer­tainly buy you caviar, but it can’t guar­an­tee that your hus­band will meet you in Paris as he promised.

Paris Can Wait is a lit­tle ploddy, and Anne doesn’t ap­pear to have a lot of agency; “find­ing hap­pi­ness” ap­pears to be de­fined as “choos­ing be­tween two men”. Some sad sto­ries from the past are dredged up to en­gi­neer a bit of weak third-act drama, and the whole thing fin­ishes with a lame Be­fore Sun­rise- type gam­ble.

And yet, it’s not a mean film, and it’s lovely to look at. There are cer­tainly worse things to do in a New Zealand win­ter than spend 90 min­utes in the dark imag­in­ing your­self trip­ping from Provence to Paris while drink­ing an Auck­land mort­gage’s worth of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

LEFT— Omar Sy (left) and James Thier­rée por­tray a yin-yang part­ner­ship.

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