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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 09.07.09] France movie review action

Year: 2009
Directors: Pierre Laffargue
Writers: Pierre Laffargue / Lucio Mad
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 8 out of 10

Heist movie meets magical realism in Pierre Laffargue's Black, an uneven but brave and exciting action film that starts off just about competent and ends up being quite wonderful. The way it grows into itself suggests an inexperienced director struggling to find his style, but one with enough imagination and confidence to make an excellent film with the jumble of bits he has to work with.

The film starts explosively with an armed robbery carried out by Black, a Parisian of Senegalese descent, and his gang on a security van in Paris. The robbery, a visceral and heart-popping flurry of shotgun blasts and explosions, is a disaster but Black manages to escape to Dakar where he hears from a relative of a bag full of diamonds hidden in an unsecured third-world bank. However there are others who want to get their hands on the diamonds, strange colonial white men who usher in the unreality that propels Black into its brilliant closing scenes.

As you can probably tell from the above Black is never in danger of becoming boring, its fast pace, violent subject matter and quick-fire dialogue - infused with a macho sense of humour - zipping the film through an admittedly familiar and unchallenging diamond heist plot. It's generally well-handled, the editing coherent and the action exciting, but there is an unfortunate aping of Tarantino in some early scenes, in particular one that introduces characters in freeze frame with gaudy lettering in a nineteen-seventies font - a pretty embarrassing technique that belongs in the retro-obsessed nineteen-nineties. An accompanying soundtrack of seventies-styled jazz funk is much less excruciating, but similarly undermines the modernity of a thriller that spans multicultural France and a changing Africa.

Thankfully, if a little perplexing, the seventies styling slowly disappears from the film, along with the retro funk which is replaced by a much more appropriate electronic take on African tribal music. While this happens the plot moves into less trod territory as Degrand, an old-school white-suited colonial master played by François Levantal, comes into conflict with Black over the diamonds and employs local witchcraft to gain the upper hand. Black however hooks up with Interpol agent Pamela, played by Carole Karemera, and in so doing fulfills a Senegalese prophecy we were introduced to at the beginning of the film - his lion to her panther against Degrand's snake - culminating in a beautifully handled slice of African fairytale filmed in nighttime cyanotype and infused with a hallucinogenic, dreamlike feel.

It is in these final scenes where the film triumphs, the rather straight nature and un-poetic dialogue of the diamond heist story paling into insignificance beside them, competently executed though it is. It's a confused way to present a movie and you feel wasn't wholly intentional, but even so it's difficult to be too critical of a film that shows not only daring and originality, but in its cross-cultural subject matter feels like a story from a new and exciting world, one that is perhaps a little too new for a director to be able to pin down just yet.

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