Black (Director: Pierre Laffargue): I was a little concerned when I saw that the Toronto After Dark Film Festival had programmed two films with similar blaxploitation styles (and even similar titles). After seeing the rollicking Black Dynamite (review) a few nights ago, I wondered if anything could top that experience for pure fun. The nice thing is that Black doesn’t really try to do the same things. I suspected that the film’s French origin would lead to a more stylish and less slapstick film, and I was right.
French rapper MC Gab’1 is the essence of cool as the titular Black, leader of a gang of bank robbers in Paris. But after a heist goes spectacularly wrong, he’s receptive when his cousin calls from Dakar to offer him an irresistible job. A briefcase full of uncut diamonds is being kept in a safety deposit box at the bank where his cousin works as a security guard, and Black is confident that he and his French pals can easily rob the unsophisticated Senegalese and be back in Paris quickly. Of course, things don’t go exactly to plan.
Before he knows it, the plan is complicated by a corrupt banker, Russian mercenaries, wrestlers with machetes who can make themselves invisible, and a man whose snakelike appearance hints at his true character. Black ultimately meets his match though in Pamela, a woman as tough as she is beautiful. When they team up, it’s refreshing to see her take charge. By the end, the plot has taken us to some very strange places, and the pacing is a bit slow in spots, but it’s all gorgeous to look at. There is some dazzling camera work during some of the chase scenes through the streets of Dakar, and the opening set piece (an armored car robbery in Paris) is brilliantly directed, ratcheting up the tension and making the resulting flight to Africa feel like an escape.
Adding to all the style is a fantastic propulsive soundtrack of African artists like 70s Afro-jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, the inimitable Fela Kuti and modern interpreters like Antibalas.
Here is the Q&A with director Pierre Laffargue and producer Lauranne Bourrachot from after the screening:
Black opens at the AMC Yonge-Dundas on August 28th