A 15-year-old girl in a black gang in Brussels must choose between loyalty and love when she falls for a Moroccan boy from a rival gang. The city of Brussels, plagued by high rates of youth...
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Piet De Praitere,
A 15-year-old girl in a black gang in Brussels must choose between loyalty and love when she falls for a Moroccan boy from a rival gang. The city of Brussels, plagued by high rates of youth unemployment, is home to nearly forty street gangs, and the number of young people drawn into the city's gang culture increases each year. It's in this criminal milieu that directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah set Black, a pulse-pounding contemporary take on a Shakespearean tragedy. Worlds collide when Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), a teenage girl with ties to Brussels' Black Bronx gang, meets Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi), a member of a rival Moroccan gang, at a police station. Keenly aware of the consequences of getting involved with someone from another gang, they at first resist their attraction to one another, but they can only resist for so long. Just when they've started to imagine a different life for themselves, a terrifying incident reminds Mavela where she belongs - and, more ... Written by
'Yes, I read books by Shakespeare', says a young gang member jokingly when he is interrogated by the police. Without doubt, this scene in 'Black' is meant as a little innuendo. The film is the latest cinematographic adaptation of Shakespeare's play 'Romeo and Juliet'.
'Black' is set in Brussels, where territories are divided between Moroccan street gangs and rival gangs of black Africans. When Moroccan teenager Marwan is waiting in the police station after having been arrested for theft, he meets the pretty African girl Mavela, who is caught for the same reason. They exchange telephone numbers, and start an affair. Because they are members of different gangs, this is enough reason for an exchange of violent attacks by the gangs. Several girls are gang raped or forced to participate in holdups, the boys organize gang fights.
The film is very fast-paced and dynamic, capturing the inner city gang life with dark, sinister images and impressive establishing shots, making Brussels look like an urban jungle not much different from the Bronx or Compton.
But beneath this succession of beautiful shots, there is not much substance. The screenplay doesn't contain much suspense because everyone knows the Romeo and Juliet storyline. The dialogue consists mostly of four letter words. The characters are mostly one-dimensional. All white cops are sadistic racists, all black men are heartless macho's, all girls are sexy and submissive. The film makers miss the opportunity to develop interesting characters, like Mina, a policewoman of Moroccan descent. We never learn how she copes with being hated by members of her own ethnic group.
In view of the Paris attacks of November 13th, the film has an interesting extra dimension. The Moroccan street gang is named '1080', which is the zip code for Molenbeek, the quarter in Brussels where the atrocities were being prepared and planned. You can't help but think that Marwan could just as well have been one of the attackers.
Another interesting thing are the subtle references to Belgian linguistic squabbles. From time to time, Marwan and Mavela switch from French to Dutch, but purely in a mocking way. They hate the Flemish policemen who address them in Dutch, and when Marwan tells his imprisoned brother that he wants to start a legitimate garage business, he is accused of being 'Flemish'. Knowing that both directors are from Flanders, this is a nice pun.
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