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Chocolat
Genre Biography
 
Review:

Most people may associate Chocolat with the quaint Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp romance drama released at the turn of the 21st-century about a chocolate shop in a small French village. However, the original "Chocolat" became famous for clowning in Paris at the turn of the 20th-century. Rafael "Chocolat" Padilla became the first black circus artist in France and Chocolat chronicles his rise and fall.

Together with George Footit, the pairing revolutionised the art form by concocting a double act featuring the sophisticated white clown and foolish auguste clown. This duo was a box office sensation and helped reinvigorate clown acts and circus attendance figures. The story of Chocolat tries to amuse through an upbeat character study, leveraging his awkward place in Parisian society and candidly exploring societal prejudices and injustices of the time.

Casting the charismatic Intouchable star Omar Sy seemed like an inspired choice, however the role while reliant on personality, seems more suited to an actor of David Oyelowo's abilities. Sy is amusing and convincing when it comes to Chocolat's charisma and physical performance art, making a wonderful contrast to his clown counterpart Footit. However, he falls a bit flat when it comes to soaking up the magnitude of the drama. He's outclassed by Thierree, a hardened French version of Johnny Depp and in real-life a distant relation to Chaplin, playing the complex and melancholic Footit.

Their intricate relationship has the most dramatic tension, making you wonder why the film-makers didn't give it more focus to begin with. While promising, the production doesn't power home the fundamental prejudices concerning Chocolat. We're dealing with a fish-out-of-water drama and while it acknowledges inherent racism and double standards in the entertainment business, it doesn't go deep enough to truly grapple with them. Despite Sy's presence, it's not funny enough to be a flat-out comedy and doesn't dig deep enough to excavate the power of injustice, leaving you entertained, amused, informed but relatively unmoved.

Chocolat is a fascinating comedy drama and true story that had great film potential, but the script seems a bit tame and satisfied with scraping the surface. They could've gone with a Life is Beautiful angle by sweeping the darkness under the rug with comedy or taken to the shadows in search of more soul power. By walking this tightrope and struggling to siphon enough depth from Sy's comical performance, we fall back on the aesthetics. In this respect, it's a wonder - treating us to first-class production design and the exquisite wardrobe, steeping Chocolat in the life-and-times of Parisian circuses at the turn of the 20th-century.

The bottom line: Entertaining


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