Black (2009) IMDb Fantasia Directed by Pierre Laffargue Written by Pierre Laffargue, Lucio Mad and Gábor Rassov
An African tribal shaman is ranting on a street corner in Paris about a prophecy concerning the rise of the evil Snake and the need for the champions Lion and Panther to come together to beat Snake. While crossing the street, the shaman's eyes lock on the eyes of a garbageman with a lion birth-mark on his right cheek. The shaman declares that this man is Lion while the garbageman humours him to get him out of the way of the garbage truck.
The man with the lion birthmark is Black (played by French rapper MC Jean Gab'1 - probably best known to North American audiences for playing Nico in District 13.) Black is disguised as a garbageman, on his way with a crew to rob an armored car. After this heist goes disastrously wrong, Black is hiding out at home when his cousin from Dakar calls to tell him of a briefcase stored in the safety deposit of the local bank filled with diamonds. Black puts together another crew and heads for Dakar to steal the diamonds...
"Did you think you could just come to Dakar and steal the diamonds from the stupid Africans?" Black is asked at one point. Black's journey is nowhere near that simple.
Director Pierre Laffargue effortlessly quotes other films and genres while keeping Black its own movie. The film literally goes from Dassin's Rififi to Mamet's Heist to Kramer's The Defiant Ones to Peckinpah's The Getaway in dizzying succession, but all these are just masks for what is at its' heart an African story.
Black's journey from Paris to urban Dakar and from there deeper into the heart of Africa is punctuated by an amazing soundtrack. From the opening credits, where we follow Black's garbage truck through the highways of Paris while a slow smoky jazz cover of Also Sprach Zarathustra plays, the soundtrack ably serves the film - slowly transforming from cool Parisian jazz to more African beats, mirroring Black's transformation from cool Parisian bad guy to tribal African hero.
If MC Jean Gab'1 keeps getting scripts and direction like this, he could become a great film action hero. He has both the charisma and the the acting chops. At least in this film, he also has a flexible definition of action hero, using guns (small and large), grenades, knives and fists to win his fights, taking the weapons that are available to him and using them all with skill. Most importantly, he has the swagger. He truly believes that if he isn't the strongest man in the room or the fastest, he is definitely the smartest.
If the film has a weakness, it is that MC Jean Gab'1 is so good that he completely outclasses his adversaries. The only actor to keep up with him and match him is Carole Karemera as Pamela. François Levantal does his best in a part that could have gone dangerously awry and wrestles Lagrande just this side of too over the top, but Anton Yakovlev's Ouliakov is a cartoonish bad guy who wandered in from a Jean-Claude Van Damme film when a more nuanced Peckinpah bad guy was needed.
Ultimately, the film is not about the obstacles that Black meets on his journey, it is about the journey itself and I strongly encourage you to hunt out Black to take that journey as well.
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