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:: Monsieur Chocolat,

Director Roschy Zem once again examines an episode from the past to highlight race relations and the devastating impacts of discrimination, going back a further 70 years since his direction of Omar Killed Me (2011), his filmic rendering of a famous French criminal trial. In Monsieur Chocolat, Zem continues to examine the historical impact and connotations of race and bigotry in France with the film charting the rise and fall of the first enormously popular Afro-Cuban artist during the Belle Epoque in Paris.

Starring Omar Sy in the title role and co-starring the real-life circus performer James Thierrée (the grandson of Charlie Chaplin) as Footit, Monsieur Chocolat documents the rags-to- riches tale of this black and white circus comedy duo sensation. During the late 1800s, Raphael (a former slave) is eking out a living performing as the fearsome cannibal ’Kananga the Negro King’ in a provincial French circus. Dressed in animal skins and wielding a spear, he enthrals the visiting country folk, most of whom have never seen a black man. His mock-cannibal routine comes to the attention of Footit, a once-famous white-face clown who is experiencing a downward turn in his career. The two men team up in an attempt to invigorate their careers by performing as the stylised white faced clown and the clumsy ‘August’, or fool. The successful duo, named Footit and Chocolat thrill audiences with their new act and soon find themselves bound for fame and fortune at the Nouveau Cirque in Paris.

The pair are adored and mobbed by fans wherever they go. However, cracks appear in their professional relationship when Chocolat becomes dissatisfied with continually having to fulfil the downtrodden, subservient racial stereotype demanded of the duo’s professional routine. He attempts to lose his stage name of Chocolat, and perform as Raphael (his real name) and harbours a radical ambition of becoming the first black actor to play ‘Othello’ on the French stage. Audiences begin to turn on him, unable to tolerate his defiant stand for racial equality.

Within the film there is a scene where the Lumière brothers film a short sequence from Footit and Chocolat’s act, and the screening of the actual footage shot by the famous film-making brothers later in the film is a truly moving experience, permitting audience reflection upon slavery and racism which for almost a century diminished this extraordinary performer’s career. This footage in some small way, restores the great legacy of this gifted and resilient artist.