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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Black movie review: tragically bad

Black red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
A facile riff on Romeo & Juliet amongst Brussels gangs. Banal, clichéd, and treats its teenage-girl protagonist in a spectacularly disgusting way.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): desperate for stories about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Here we go again. The writing-directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah had made only one small movie in their native Belgium when they took Black to the Toronto Film Festival last year… and it was on the supposed strengths of the film that Eddie Murphy and Jerry Bruckheimer handed them the keys to the upcoming big-budget action comedy Beverly Hills Cop 4. (Indie male filmmakers with no track records getting scooped up by Hollywood for major projects while successful female filmmakers can’t get work is an ongoing problem.) So, what’s special about Black? Absolutely nothing: it’s a facile riff on Romeo & Juliet set amongst rival gangs in Brusselstweet. It has nothing to say that we haven’t heard before, and — much worse — though it thinks it’s offering primarily a teenage girl’s perspective on its events, it fails at that in a spectacularly disgusting way.

When 15-year-old Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), of the gang Black Bronx, and Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi), of the Moroccan gang 1080s (named after their postal code), fall in love, it causes precisely the sort of trouble you’d expect. There’s not a moment here that comes with the tiniest hint of surprise or that transcends the many clichés that have sprung up around gang stories or around forbidden romances. And while I wasn’t expecting another Girlhood — the best movie I’ve ever seen about teenaged girls and gangs, not that there are many to choose from — I certainly didn’t imagine that a movie that wants to be sympathetic to its female protagonist would shoot a rape scene from the perspective of her rapists, or that it would be more concerned with men’s reactions to “their” women being raped than with the women’s own reactions. (Yes, there is more than one rape scene here. That’s part of what makes it “gritty.”tweet) This is based on two Flemish YA novels, which do not appear to have been translated into English, by Dirk Bracke, who is an old white man. Now, it’s not impossible that an old white man could convincingly tell a story from the POV of a black teenage girl, but from the evidence here, I’m guessing that he has not done that. At least El Arbi and Fallah are ethnically Moroccan… which is probably why their greatest sympathies seem to be for the Moroccan teens.

Black wants to be Shakespearean, but the only thing tragic here is how banal it is.


red light 2 stars

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watch at home

Black (2016) | directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
UK/Ire release: Aug 19 2016

BBFC: rated 18 (sexual violence, strong violence, very strong language)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I suspect that what the studios are looking for when they decide which inexperienced director gets a shot at the big money, other than a penis obviously, is someone who won’t rock the boat with their auteur vision. “Nothing to say that we haven’t heard before” is exactly what they want out of a big-budget project; they can tweak it in post after the focus groups have seen it, and the screens of the world will be graced with another extruded movie product.

  • Danielm80

    It’s made a lot of money for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unless you’re Edgar Wright.

  • RogerBW

    And, in spite of the critics, a fair old bit of money for the DCCU too.

  • Danielm80

    True. But Aquaman may actually have to be a good movie. (Wonder Woman is a whole other can of worms.)

  • Bluejay

    Auteurs are hit and miss. You can get The Godfather, or you can get the Star Wars prequels.

  • RogerBW

    And what the money men want from a big film is a predictable return.

  • Bluejay

    Sure, and they got that even with Lucas’s prequels. My point was that auteurship per se isn’t always a good thing, and studio interference per se isn’t always a bad thing.

  • RogerBW

    Wasn’t meaning to imply otherwise. But in this specific case, where a very generic film gets its director “promoted”, you can see the system at work.

  • amanohyo

    On the one hand, I’m happy that Ratner is no longer attached. On the other, this doesn’t give me much hope that his replacement will fare much better. Mostly it’s just depressing that a fourth BHC is even being made. As you’ve alluded to before, it feels like whatever smattering of independent vision these newbie directors have is typically steamrolled in the editing room at the request of the studio execs anyway. The entire process is a horrible waste of talent and resources from start to finish – it’s kind of a miracle that any decent movies are produced at all.

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