Roschdy Zem’s film follows former slave Rafael Padilla (Omar Sy) as he unexpectedly becomes one of the most famous circus stars of the Belle Époque era in France. After performing as a clown in small country shows, Padilla is discovered by respected British entertainer George Foottit (James Thierree) and moves to Paris. Despite tensions between them, the pair quickly form a successful partnership and become one of the main attractions of the city’s Nouveau Cirque. However, as the pressures of fame begin to take their toll, Padilla struggles with regular racial discrimination and a growing gambling addiction which threaten to ruin his career.
“The clown known as Chocolat, a former Afro-Cuban slave, was a fixture of Belle Époque Paris. Toulouse Lautrec painted him — often in ugly caricature as a monkey — the Lumière Brothers filmed him and Jean Cocteau and Colette wrote about him. The first black performer to become a major popular hit in France and a key figure in its awakening as a multicultural nation, he died in poverty in 1917 and his memory faded. This box-office hit has helped restore his legacy.”
The New York Times