Chocolate (2016). United States, 21 minutes. Directed by Thiago Dadalt. Featuring: Piercey Dalton, Joao Bounassar, Talia Bacha, and Amy Argyle.
Chocolate is one of the most effective short films I’ve ever seen, due in large part to an outstanding performance by Piercey Dalton in the role of Eve. Although scarcely into middle age, Eve has noticed signs that her memory may be failing her, and the film—in nonlinear fashion—follows what happens when she gets lost after leaving her house one afternoon.
Writer and director Thiago Dadalt does a remarkable job of dropping the audience into Eve’s chaotic headspace, where we put the pieces of the puzzle together only as she does. From her point of view, we are bombarded by the unstable sights and sounds of a Los Angeles homeless community, with standout supporting performances from Amy Argyle as Janet, an addict mom, and Joao Bounassar as Lewis, the man who shows Eve how to beg on the streets. Eve has a daughter (Talia Bacha, who shares great chemistry with Dalton), and it’s her memory that propels Eve out of skid row and into a quest through the unfamiliar city to find her way home.
Dalton has been awarded for her performance in the film (Best Actress, FirstGlance Film Festival), as has Argyle (Supporting Actress, London IFF), and her approach into this complex role is the key. Early onset Alzheimer’s can often be treated with a great deal of fear, but Dalton uses curiosity and bewilderment to interact with her surroundings, and her unadulterated vulnerability is what allows the audience to fully enter into her experience. She creates the physicality and psychological gestures of a woman who was once at home in the world but now finds herself on shaky ground, even to the subtle details of how heat and thirst affect her body.
Chocolate works so well because Dadalt sustains the story’s tension through character rather than plot; we care deeply for Eve’s well-being as soon as we meet her. Dadalt builds on that relationship between character and audience by using Hitchcock’s technique of keeping the camera with the protagonist instead of putting the audience in an omniscient position. He uses Eve’s sense memories to connect the dots and every plot turn arises from the character herself within her own mental constraints, rather than being imposed upon her. We root for Eve to find home but are equally afraid that she won’t.
Dadalt is aided by flawless Steadicam work and natural lighting from director of photography Andre Chesini. They shot on the streets of Los Angeles and the documentary feel of the film is a testament to the entire team’s focus and talent. Makeup designer Bruna Nogueira deserves mention for her transformative work on the cast, where she creates a grimly realistic look for the homeless community and transitions Dalton from a beautiful middle-class woman to her wretched alteration on the streets. Each role in the film, no matter how small, is filled with actors of skill and range.
Dadalt has expressed his desire to show that every homeless person we might encounter has a story to tell and that but for a twist of fate, such a person could be you or I. Dalton has become an activist through this film to raise awareness for Nancy is Missing. Nancy Paulikas, a middle-aged woman with Alzheimer’s, got lost on a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016 and is still missing. Chocolate continues to play at countless festivals and has received numerous accolades for Best Film, Director, and Cinematographer. It won the Film Heals Award from the Manhattan Film Festival and is eligible for the 2017 Academy Awards. This is a film and a team with a beautiful and important message to share.
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