Thursday, February 25, 2016

They Called Him "Chocolat" - Exhibition at the Maison des Métallos

Since its release on February 3, the film Chocolat, starring César-winning actor Omar Sy, is getting good reviews in the press (3.4/5) and even better ones from spectators (4/5)*.

Chocolat - movie flier

Gérard Noiriel's book entitled On l'appelait "Chocolat", le veritable histoire d'un homme sans nom (They Called Him "Chocolat," the True Story of a Man without a Name) and the exhibition of similar name are also generating considerable attention.

The exhibition is being held at the Maison des Metallos, a large cultural center in Paris' 11th arrondissement. Located on the first floor, it consists of several panels and videos (in French) that present the life of Rafael Padilla, the Cuban slave who became famous in France for his role as the clown named "Chocolat."

On l'appelait "Chocolat" - exhibition flier
© Discover Paris!

Chocolat bore the brunt of the slapstick antics of a white clown named "Foottit."

Foottit et Chocolat
© Discover Paris!

The two men created an act that entertained thousands at the Nouveau Cirque, 251 rue Saint-Honoré, in the 1st arrondissement.

Panel describing Foottit et Chocolat's performances at the Nouveau Cirque
© Discover Paris!

In the center of the middle room of the exhibition, two costumes from the Roschy Zem film attract the eye. Chocolat traditionally wore the suit on the left in the image below, while Foottit wore the costume on the right.

Costumes from the film Chocolat
© Discover Paris!

There were several visitors present on the afternoon that we saw the exhibit, which I found remarkable given the off-the-beaten-track location of the Maison des Métallos. The presentation is simple but filled with information and images that bring Rafael's story to light. In one of the panels, we discover that Chocolat was hired to perform the lead dramatic role in a production called Moïse that was staged at the Théâtre Antoine (10th arrondissment) in 1911. The French public was not ready to accept a black man in such a role and the production failed.

In this same panel, we learn that Chocolat was only given the name "Rafael Padilla" upon his death!

Behind the wall where the fourth segment of the exhibition is displayed, a Lumière Brothers' film of two Footit and Chocolat performances play in a permanent loop. But more interesting for me were the videos in the first room in which Noisiel is shown in Havana, investigating the places that Padilla might have frequented during his childhood (he was sold as a slave at approximately 10 years of age), and in Paris, retracing the steps of the successful clown through the arrondissements where he lived and performed. Of note is the fact that Noisiel consistently refers to Padilla as "tu", the diminutive form of the French pronoun "vous" (you) throughout the Paris video.

The most fascinating tidbits of information that I gleaned from this exhibition are that Padilla:

- Performed at the Hôtel Talleyrand, which would become the site of the U.S. Consulate in Paris.

- Beginning in 1908, regularly visited Paris hospital to provide "laughter therapy" for sick children; received a medal for this service in 1911.

- Performed in over 1500 roles on stage throughout his career in France.

In the final two panels, there is information about recent portrayals of Padilla, including the Zem film. There are also photos of the unveiling of the Foottit et Chocolat plaque at 251, rue Saint-Honoré, the former address of the Cirque Nouveau.

Image of unveiling of the Foottit et Chocolat plaque
© Discover Paris!

Foottit et Chocolat plaque
© Discover Paris!

The exhibition is open until February 28. Entry is free. If you are in Paris, I strongly encourage you to go there to see it!

Maison des Métallos
94 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud
75011 Paris
Metro: Couronnes (Line 2); Parmentier (Line 3) arrêt
Tuesday through Saturday 2 PM to 8 PM
Sunday 2 PM to 7 PM

*Source: AlloCiné (February 24, 2016)


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