TIFF 2015 Review: Black
Calling Adil El Arbi and Bilaal Fillah’s feature Black as an updated Romeo and Juliet is a bit reductive.
Because although the film takes place in modern day Brussels, Belgium and contains elements of Shakespeare’s Tragedy, (churches, for example, play a large role), Bard scholars would probably complain that Black does not follow the same narrative in its story of Marwan and Mavela. For never there was a tale of more woe, yes, that still remains.
But anybody seeking out the Apothecary or Tybalt or Mercutio will be disappointed. The central focus, really, is on the two leads, both non-actors, (the entire cast, really, are cast from the street life they are portraying). The brutality at hand in the film seems to be an extension of the play. And this is a warning to those planning to see the film, it is really brutal. There are multiple instances of gang rape, and the directors do not shy away from capturing some of the more difficult aspects.
Yet the issues with the film mainly revolve around trying to do too much, instead of keeping it simple. Some of the camera swirls threaten to induce vertigo, and the female lead is very much stronger than the male lead, despite the Moroccan gang receiving more of a cultural designation than the Black Bronx.
But at its core, the story is real, it is raw, and it is rare for a Belgian film to portray what is going on down below.