Roschdy Zem, whose credits include “Omar Killed Me,” penned the script with Cyril Gely (“Diplomacy”) and will direct the €18 million ($22.5 million) movie. Eric and Nicolas Altmayer at Mandarin Cinema, the outfit behind Bertrand Bonello’s “Saint-Laurent” and Francois Ozon’s “Young and Beautiful,” are producing the film.
Born in Cuba in 1860, Padilla — nicknamed Chocolat — was the first black artist to have performed on stage in France and to have appeared in advertising. Chocolat formed a duo with whiteface clown Footit (James Thieree). Clothilde Hesme completes the cast.
Chocolat reportedly inspired French painter Toulouse Lautrec and appeared in the first films by the Lumiere brothers.
Eric Altmayer said the film wouldn’t be a biopic but rather a melodrama or a fable inspired by Gerard Noiriel’s book “Clown Negre.” At the peak of his career, Padilla was immensely popular but later in his career, the public forgot about him.
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“Padilla achieved famed and prosperity by conforming himself to the image of slave and fell out of grace when he tried to escape it,” explained Altmayer.
Cecile Gaget, Gaumont’s international sales boss, predicts Sy will deliver a career-changing performance with this role. “In ‘Intouchables,’ Omar made people laugh, in ‘Samba’ he made them cry and in ‘Chocolat’ he’ll do both,” said Gaget.
Gaumont is co-producing, and is set to distribute in France as well as handle international sales.
Lensing will start in January.