France, early 19th century. The famous clown Footit is down on his luck. No one likes his act any more and no one will employ him. When he stumbles on an act of a black man pretending to be cannibal he immediately has a plan. Soon a comedic duo is born and the charismatic Chocolat quickly outshines his white master. Will Chocolat survive the test of wealth and fame and will he be able to be something more on stage than a black man caricature being kicked about by a white guy?
The best thing about MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT is its casting. Omar Sy of INTOUCHABLES fame is CHOCOLAT and JAMES THIERREE (the grandson of Charlie Chaplin himself) as his white mentor Footit are fabulous and charismatic in their roles, and embody the spirits of their prototypes. Supporting roles are filled with fine French actors with a special mention going to Noemie Lvovsky in the role of the spiteful Madame Delvaux, the circus owner. A queen of episodic roles, Lvovsky’s presence makes any film she is in just so much better.
Director Roschdy Zem has mostly had an acting career and has only a few directing roles under his belt. He works with fine material in MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT, but seems confused about the final message of the film. The script gets a little lost, borrowing from many episodes of the real lives of CHOCOLAT and FOOTIT, and struggles to find its focus until the very end.
The film has fantastic production values, the Paris of Belle Epoch comes alive with many details and the costumes are fabulous. But the film is overly long, and juggling many characters, who seem to walk into the movie and then stumble out, proves to be challenging.
MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT gives justice to the world and the circus atmosphere the real CHOCOLAT and FOOTIT lived in, but their story is clumsily told, overloaded with secondary characters that never find resolution. Saying that, MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT is by no means a bad film, but it would have benefitted from a tighter script and a shorter running time.