Monday, 20 June 2016 11:26

Café Cinema: Black

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Photo: Nicolas Vigier (flickr); Licence: CC0 1.0  

The Belgian movie Black draws its audience into the unknown and often cruel world of Brussels´ migrant neighbourhoods. Reminiscent of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the filmmakers have adapted the novels of Dirk Bracke and created a film that is a mixture between thrilling action and bitter reality. The young directors Abdil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have made an astonishing film that is timely as it considers the issues of migration and globalisation.

The viewers find themselves in Brussels´ poor Moroccan communities where they follow the story of 15-year-old Mavela, who falls in love with Marwan, a boy from the rival gang. While Bracke’s books aim at a younger audience, the film is more violent. She discovers that breaking free from her gang to follow her own path is close to impossible, as she is forced to choose between her loyalty to her group and the possibility of escaping with her lover to start a different life away from the streets. However, continuous threats and violence from her own gang are imposed on her as a reminder where her place is. The film portrays Mavela´s everyday struggle with the prevalent violence and roughness of the city´s criminalized neighbourhoods.

Having grown up in the same city as their protagonists and sharing the same Moroccan origin, directors El Arbi and Fallah know about the city´s and citizens’ struggles in the multicultural environment of 21st century Brussels. They attended Brussels´ film academy Luca School of Art and have dreamt of international success since their early youth. Legendary auteurs such as Spike Lee and Oliver Stone have been inspirations and idols for the young artist. Fallah mentioned in an interview that “one could definitely compare the atmosphere of the film with that of the City of Gods movie by Meirelles and Lund.” Just as the in the Brazilian movie the directors also chose their main cast from the streets of Brussels, were not cutting back on violence and used abusive language which illustrates their unconventional style of filmmaking.

“Black is a film with a political heart.”

Set in Brussels, a city widely known for its European Union headquarters, Black breaks with this image and displays the lesser-known areas of the city where the police´s control cannot reach and crimes committed by gangs are common. These gangs find themselves at the bottom of Western society; teenagers as young as Mavela are trapped inside and are threatened for even considering the prospect of a different life for themselves. It is this world that El Arbi and Fallah present— a vicious unknown world where once drawn in one cannot get out. All in all, Black is a film with a political heart. It uses fiction to understand why exactly some stereotypical image of migrants as poor and violent outcasts is a common sight in European newspapers, and why this is ultimately related to a government and European society which is failing young people like Mavela who get caught up in street gangs. At the same time, one can see meaning in the title alone: “Black” can symbolize many things, from closing our eyes to the less palatable aspects of society, where troubled young people come to be viewed as outcasts. and to what it means to be dark skinned in a society dominated by white people.

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Photo: Nicolas Vigier (flickr); Licence: CC0 1.0  

This film has succeeded in capture the Belgian imagination. While some critics have claimed that it is too violent for teenagers, youth interest in Black has ensured that tickets were sold out in record time. In one Belgian cinema, a riot broke out during the screening as teens sneaked in to see the movie and refused to leave once caught, causing chaos, the police to be called, and multiple cancellations. Another screening at a multiplex in Brussels turned into a riot, with stones thrown at the police.  French cinemas have refused to screen the movie at all, due to its thematic similarities to last November's terrorist attacks in Paris. This controversy has added to the furore around the issues focused on in Black, especially in relation to the governments’ loss of control when it comes to preventing the recruitment of young people to criminal environments, and the lack of visible integration.

One thing is for certain this is a movie which tries to highlight what society ignore, and at the same time to opens Europe’s eyes to an exciting Belgian film industry. Black has received praise and several prestigious awards, such as the Discovery award at 2015's Toronto International Film Festival, and has made headlines with controversial its plots and a new way of movie making. This all proves how relevant the topics dealt with in Black are today, and how appreciated the film is amongst the young.

Last modified on Monday, 20 June 2016 12:12
Katarina Poensgen

Katarina Poensgen is from Oslo, Norway and studies BA Journalism at City University London. With her passion for travelling and politics, she aspires to become a foreign correspondent. She is interested in Russia and Eastern Europe, but usually loves to take her vacations in Denmark and Germany. When not joking about Scandinavia, she also enjoys walking in the snow and reading Dostoevsky.


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