Another take on the Romeo and Juliet story linked to the reality of the gangs that thrive in Brussels.




This is a second feature by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah who although Moroccans live in Belgium and the chosen material is an adaptation, by the directors and others, of two novels by Dirk Bracke. Both books draw on actuality as they depict the lives of immigrants in Brussels and, if the film’s focus is very much on African and Moroccan youngsters drawn into rival gangs, the attitude of El Arbi and Fallah is no more approving than that of the parents seen but briefly in the movie. Indeed, if the gangs give their individual members a sense of belonging and the rush of excitement afforded by drugs, sex and shoplifting, Black very clearly becomes an exposé of the power struggles inherent in their rivalry and of the viciousness that underlies it (girl members who step out of line are likely to be raped as a punishment


Black is set up as a drama that, in dealing with this material, seeks to please a mainstream audience both as an action movie and through the love story that lies at the heart of it. The film features two gangs and, when Mavela, a 16-year-old African and a member of the Black Bronx Gang, falls for the only slightly older Marwan, a Moroccan member of the rival 1080s who is no less attracted to her, their situation is akin to that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The only question is whether or not this variation will go as far as Shakespeare when a tragic conclusion looks to be on the cards.


In approving the achievement of El Arbi and Fallah, I am not suggesting that Black is a great film. It seems contrived that Mavela should only realise just how badly the Black Bronx Gang can behave relatively late on in the story and, if the filmmakers admire La Haine (1995), there is no sense of this being a work that will have the impact of that in-depth portrayal of the banlieus of Paris. The appealing presence of both Martha Canga Antonio (Mavela) and Aboubakr Bensaihi (Marwan) is part of what makes this a piece of popular cinema of a comparatively superficial kind. But Black is what it is and the directors handle the material with deft energy (it is no surprise to discover that they edited the film themselves). In other words, whether you take it as a limitation or as praise, what can be said about Black is that it looks like a calling card to Hollywood for El Arbi and Fallah right down to the stylised set-piece with which their film ends. Indeed, since writing that I have read that they are in Hollywood even now.




Cast: Martha Canga Antonio, Aboubakr Bensaihi, Emmanuel Tahon, Théo Kabeya, Natascha Boyamba, Glodie Lombi, Axel Massudi, Brandon Massudi, Jérémie Zagba, Soufiane Chilah.


Dir Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Pro Frank Van Passel, Bert Hamelinck and Ivy Vanhaecke, Screenplay Nele Meirhaeghe, Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah and Hans Herbots based on the novels Black & Back by Dirk Bracke, Ph Robrecht Heyvaert, Pro Des Stijn Verhoeven, Ed Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Music Hannes De Maeyer, Costumes Nina Caspari .


Caviar & a team/Climax Films/Één & RTBF (Télévision belge)-Vertigo Films.
95 mins. Belgium. 2015. Rel: 19 August 2016. Cert. 18.