Saturday, June 13, 2015

Black (orig. Nwa / N.O.I.R.) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  QuebecFilms (2/5)  Cinoche (3/5)  MontrealGazette (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (J.M. Lanlo) review* (M. Gignac) review* (C.H. Ramond) review*
Huffington Post Quebec (I. Houdassine) review* (M.A. Lussier) review* (Ph. Couture) review*

MontrealGazette (B. Kelly) background article
MontrealGazette (B. Kelly) review viewer comments*

Black (orig. Nwa / N.O.I.R.) [2015] [IMDb] []* (directed and cowritten by Yves Christian Fournier [IMDb] []* along with Jean-Hervé Désiré [IMDb] []*) opened recently the 2015 (13th annual) Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival organized by ArtMattan and hosted by Facets Multimedia in Chicago.  Set largely in the projects of North Montreal, and made with the support of public funds of both Canada and Quebec, the film was billed as an attempt to begin to redress a recognized deficiency in French-speaking / Quebecois cinema: the lack of films telling the stories of francophones of color in Quebec.  As such the film was billed as a Quebecois "Boyz n the Hood [1991]."

Domestic reviews (above) were mixed.  However, I would defend the filmmakers from the most consistent complaint that "there were just too many characters / subplots."  This is because the francophone world of color is, in fact, complex/diverse.  In Montreal there would be communities of (1) "French speaking African Americans," that is descendants of African American slaves from the American "Deep South" which would include Louisiana (which was at least at one time French/Creole speaking/preferring) and other parts (which clearly were not), (2) from Haiti, (3) from other parts of the French speaking Caribbean like Guadeloupe / Martinique, (4) from non-French speaking parts of the Caribbean like Jamaica / Trinidad, (5) from former French/Belgian colonies of sub-Saharan Africa, like Senegal / Ivory Coast, Cameroon and French / Belgian Congo (6) from the former French colonies of North Africa like Algeria, Tunisia, Mali and Morocco.  IMHO it's to the film's credit that it includes characters that were of Haitian, sub-Saharan African and north-African (Arabic/Muslim) descent, as well as a few whites, all largely stuck / marginalized in "the projects" of North Montreal.   It's also a picture of "non-white" Francophone Montreal and one that I had AT LEAST A BRIEF EXPERIENCE OF when at a Servite (my religious order) "Young Friars" meeting (back in 2002 or 2003) in Montreal, we went one evening to an "African Diaspora" Montreal Music Festival that was taking place at the same time.

Some of the situations in the film were perhaps cliched: There was the requisite fighting between rival gangs over "turf" for selling drugs.  There were women both white like "Suzie" (played by Jade-Mariuka Robitaille [IMDb] []*) as well of color like Fleur (played by Julie Djiezion [IMDb] []*) who were abused by their boyfriends or pushed by prospective pimps into stripping/prostitution.  There were run-ins with cops both uniformed and plainclothes/undercover.  Though almost all of the characters were young (no 40-something+ parents/grandparents to speak of), several somewhat older characters were EITHER trying to improve themselves / "get themselves out of the ghetto," notably an well-drawn stuttering (except when he was reciting) North African rapper nicknamed "Kaddafi" (played by Salim Kechiouche [IMDb] []*) OR trying to convince their younger siblings to stay on the straight/narrow path, notably surviving older brother "Bobby X" (played by Clauter Alexandre [IMDb] []*) trying to convince younger brother "Dickens" (played by Kémy St-Éloi [IMDb] []*) to "just stay out of the gangs" after their oldest brother was killed.

Interestingly, the most religious characters presented in the story were generally portrayed as being Muslim.  And they were portrayed as being Muslim not because of a "return to (that) faith" as in the United States through movements like the Nation of Islam, but simply because the characters in question were portrayed as being either immigrants or children of immigrants from African (both Saharan and sub-Saharan) Muslim countries.

All in all, I do believe that a lot of the individual performances by this quite young cast were quite good.  I do hope to be seeing many of them in various French / Quebecois films in the future.  And I do hope that they will be able to play roles that will transcend / go beyond the ghetto portrayed in this film.

All in all, the government of Quebec can be proud of its support of this film.  Hopefully, there will be more films featuring / starring Francophones of color in the future as a result.   So very good job overall!

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.  

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