Toronto 2015 Review: BLACK Paints A Vivid Picture Of The Violent, Seedy Side Of Brussels

Featured Film Critic; Dallas, Texas (@ChaseWhale)
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Toronto 2015 Review: BLACK Paints A Vivid Picture Of The Violent, Seedy Side Of Brussels

When you're hanging with a posse who murder, steal, rape and share the bed with the same women and commit every crime imaginable, it's time to reassess your life. 

Black is a movie you will not forget once you see it. It sandwiches right in between City of God and Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. I know it's strange to place a movie in between these two stories, but it should paint a picture of the poetic violence that's in store for Black

Black is based on Dirk Bracke's novels Back/Black and follows two clashing gangs in Brussels, a group of Black Belgian nationals who call themselves The Black Bronx and a bunch of Moroccan thugs. Every gangbanger is young and naive and enjoys antagonizing and beating the shit out of their enemies. 

The opening scene follows a goon who smashes a lady's car window in broad daylight with her still in it and snatches her purse. It's one of many scenes that show how hungry these kids are for trouble, money, and power. They all have an appetite for anarchy and feed off destruction and the pain of their rivals. 

Things change and get real ugly when the leader of The Black Bronx discovers one of his crew, the innocent and vulnerable Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), has fallen in love with one of the Moroccan boys, Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi). Since meeting Mavela, Marwan is trying to walk the straight and narrow path, but trouble always seems to find him. 'You can take a gangster out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of a gangster.' Etc. & etc. 

Let this sink in: in the above paragraph, I described the Moroccan as a boy. Both gangs are babies, and the oldest can't be more than 18. We make most of our worst decisions before we become adults -- we're young, often ignorant, and death isn't on the mind -- so imagine growing up around bloodshed and the only way to make a buck is to hurt, kill, or steal. 

Black is one-of-a-kind. Most of it was filmed in the perilous parts of Brussels -- Matongé and Molenbeek -- and all actors were plucked from the streets, meaning they're non-professionals, and this is their first time in front of a movie camera. (I am told there were two real shootings during production and one of the actors was arrested for a separate incident.) Co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah must have giant balls of steel.

I haven't read the books, but it's clear the film's title isn't just to describe the skin color of one of the gangs. This movie is dark, dirty, and dangerous. The tension holds a tenacious grip and Black is a movie that will rattle your nerves and cut right to the bone. It never lets go of the ominous feeling something very, very bad is about to happen. It's a stressful watch but quite the eye-opener -- this is fictionalized crime about real crime happening every day all over the world, perhaps right now, while you're reading this.

Black's motif is crystal clear: eat or be eaten. Once you fall into the lifestyle of a hoodlum, there's no turning back. Black will do for Belgium what Gomorrah did for Italy, what City of God did for Brazil, and what virtually every Martin Scorsese gangster picture does for America.

Follow Chase on Twitter @ChaseWhale.

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toronto 2015Toronto International Film FestivalSanjay Leela BhansaliBhavani IyerPrakash KapadiaAmitabh BachchanRani MukerjiShernaz PatelAyesha KapoorDrama

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VyceVictusSeptember 9, 2015 3:25 PM

Looks great! Although, they cant be African Americans if they're Belgian nationals or African immigrants to Belgium? Or is the story specifically about American Expats? Otherwise, It's okay to say Black you know.

AleksSeptember 9, 2015 3:40 PM

"Black will do for Belgium what Gomorrah did for Italy, what City of God did for Brazil, and what pretty much every Martin Scorsese gangster picture does for America."

Sensationalist much? Just saw the trailer and it looks like utter crap. I'll bet every penny I own (all 20 of them) that this film won't do jack shit, let alone garner remotely the same kind of praise as the above mentioned classics.

Chase WhaleSeptember 9, 2015 3:55 PM

Please, by all means, tell me how you really feel.

Chase WhaleSeptember 9, 2015 3:57 PM

You bring up valid points. That sentence was hard to wrestle with because It it would have "black" written in it twice. I will update to avoid confusion. Thanks for being professional in your criticism. It's much appreciated.

VyceVictusSeptember 9, 2015 4:29 PM

All good, thanks for the reply. I find this situation a bit comical because it reminded me of a great joke from the Venture Bros. animated comedy:

AleksSeptember 9, 2015 4:45 PM

Opinions are like assholes, but there's no need to get butthurt.

Chase WhaleSeptember 9, 2015 5:04 PM

I've been watching great films all day -- I'm in a state of serenity. It's just very, very hilarious and quite naive for you to condescend my words when you haven't seen the film yet. When you do, revisit this review and unload your opinion on the film -- heavy emphasis on the world "film." I love a good debate but reviewing my review doesn't help me much.

Chase WhaleSeptember 9, 2015 5:07 PM

Hahaha, holy shit. I'm crying. Damn. That was good. Thanks for sharing. It's going to pop back up in my brain next time I review a film dealing with color. Thanks for the assist.

AleksSeptember 9, 2015 5:34 PM

I haven't even begun reviewing your review, pal. Your cinema-induced serenity seems to be quite severe. That hyperbole-ridden last paragraph isn’t nearly the biggest problem with your review.

Let’s forget for a minute that you referred to black Belgians as African Americans, and your poor use of English (though understandable if you’re not a native speaker).

“Every gangbanger is young and naive, and enjoys antagonizing and beating the shit out of their enemies while inflicting pain on innocent people.”

They beat up their enemies WHILE, simultaneously, inflicting pain on innocent people? Or are their enemies innocent people? What the hell are you saying?

“Etc. & etc.”

What? Do you mean: etc., etc.?

“Both gangs are babies and the oldest can't be more than 18.”

The gangs are babies?! There are literally two babies that are gangs?

“…all actors were plucked from the streets, meaning they're non-professionals and this is their first time in front of a movie camera.”

A movie camera is another (more archaic) term for a video camera, I’m pretty sure each and everyone of them has been in front one of those. You mean it’s their first appearance in a professional film, you just didn’t know how to say it and said something else entirely.

“It's a stressful watch but quite the eye-opener -- this is fictionalized crime about real crime happening every day all over the world, perhaps right now, while you're reading this.”

An eye-opener? Is this the first movie you’ve ever seen? It would explain your slobbering over this dreck, and the inception of that sentence. Fictionalised crime in films has been around since the dawn of cinema, why are you acting like this is the first film to portray it?

Sorry to be so harsh but it’s not every day that I read such a poorly written review on a revered film website.

Todd BrownSeptember 9, 2015 5:43 PM

If your goal here is to make Chase look bad it aint working.

AleksSeptember 9, 2015 5:47 PM

Chase did a bang up job of that himself.

Todd BrownSeptember 9, 2015 5:57 PM

You have a lot of opinions.

Chase WhaleSeptember 9, 2015 6:21 PM

You know the difference between you and I? I'm going to continue attending festivals, seeing movies in advance, review them, and you're going to sit behind your computer, talking shit because you're pissed off nobody wants your opinion and nobody cares to hear you yap. Thanks for your "constructive criticism." When you spend hours breaking apart a movie review for a film you haven't seen yet, it's time to reassess your life.

I will sleep tonight. Soundly.

dansilvanSeptember 10, 2015 2:27 AM

Go on social networks to continue fighting. Use common courtesy and stop being selfish.

AleksSeptember 10, 2015 3:23 AM

Well, that's a mature reply. It explains the juvenile nature of your reviewing and language skills. Good job owning up to your mistakes, hotshot. Have fun at all the wonder festivals, may you see many great films and review them inadequately.
In the meantime I'll go reassess my life because a "film critic" can't handle critique.

AleksSeptember 10, 2015 3:31 AM

Yes, those nasty little things tend to surface on discussion boards.

Chase WhaleSeptember 10, 2015 5:44 AM

Actually, moron, it went from you bashing my review because you didn't like what I said, to critiquing my review. You saw a one-minute trailer for a two-hour movie and decided it sucks, so you came after me spitting venom. You've been flagged and soon you will be blocked. Get a life, loser.

AleksSeptember 10, 2015 7:00 AM

Seems I'm getting through to you, now that you've resorted to infantile name-calling. Very professional, Twitch can be proud. There's no grounds for you to block me. You, on the other hand, should be fired, pronto.
You're a reporter, you should be on your A game when it comes to writing, but you're not. You say it's "spitting venom", I say it's calling a spade a spade. Instead of wasting your time flagging, blocking and cursing me, you should invest it in becoming a better writer.

Ard VijnSeptember 10, 2015 9:03 AM

Aleks, what do you want? Seriously?

Feel free to have issues with the article. But I agree with Chase that your remarks about the film itself, and therefore your comments about the correctness of Chase's article with regards to his opinion, are baseless if you've only seen the trailer.

Thanks for thinking of us as a revered website, that's always nice to hear. Do understand that Chase is actually one of the reasons we're revered. His interviews this year have provided many of the site's highlights, and so have his reviews. If this particular one feels clunky to you, it means that we as an editorial team didn't pick up on the things which ended up annoying you. Try not to (nit)pick fights with the writer, you'd be surprised how rough a rough draft can get when an article is changed from short to long or the other way round. The kind of mistakes you mention are the shared responsibility of our editorial team (me and Todd included).

However, feel free to disagree with Chase about the film. When you've seen it, that would probably make for an easier conversation.

Watching this thread derail wasn't a pretty sight. Both of you did your share of over-retaliation I think. While you yourself didn't resort to name-calling you weren't exactly the most civil either. You made it easy to mistake you for a troll. As it stands, I don't see this will result in a blocking. But also know that you can forget about anyone firing Chase.

Don DryeSeptember 10, 2015 11:36 AM

Not to stir things up again, but I do find the review a bit lacking.
It feels more like a promotional advert for the movie, than an actual review.

I haven't seen the movie yet, so maybe Chase is right, and this might be the best and most memorable movie ever made in Belgium, But than I would still like to know why it's so damn good.

Is it the acting performances? beautiful cinematography? or maybe a mind blowing original story?
Just explaining the summary and telling some interesting trivia about the film doesn't really count as a good review does it?

AleksSeptember 10, 2015 12:13 PM

What do I want, Art? How about being able to voice my opinion without being attacked for it? That would be nice.

All I said is that I think the trailer makes the film look like a cheesy piece of shit. Not once did I say anything about the quality of the movie as a whole. This a discussion board, I started a discussion. This isn't the first time the staff reacts in such a hostile way, it explains why the majority of the articles here have zero comments.

Anyway, Chase got mad, told me to get a life and called me a moron and a loser. Which I found ironic considering the quality of his work, hence my pointing it out. It wasn’t a jab toward you or Todd, I know that managing a big website like this isn’t easy. However, nothing you say justifies a member of staff lashing out like that at a long-time follower. I may not have acted gentlemanly but he was way out of line. Berate him, not me.

As for the film; we’ll see, indeed, but I think my twenty pennies are save.

Chase WhaleSeptember 12, 2015 9:36 AM

Thanks for the adult criticism -- much appreciated. I believe I explained it as best as I could in the timeframe I had to write it. As primarily an online film critic, I've learned people hate long reviews so I try not to go over 800 words, which some still consider to be long. That said, paragraphs six - eight explain why I liked the film. I will not always talk about the acting or the camera shots because sometimes that's not what makes a movie great or terrible. I did, however, lightly touch on the acting in paragraph six and could have expanded, but I didn't feel the need.

One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of online film critics work full-time jobs and write multiple reviews at once. Festivals are tough because it's go go go, but we do the best we can. I did the best I could.

Perhaps it's not my best review but it's also not my worst. Maybe I'll grab you on my next review. Or, maybe I won't. Regardless, I do appreciate you explaining in a polite manner that this review just didn't do it for you. That's how it's done.

Chase WhaleSeptember 13, 2015 7:13 AM

So cute you think you think you didn't start this asinine thread. So, so cute.

AleksSeptember 13, 2015 8:06 AM

So cute how you gave the other commenter a list of excuses to why your review sucks. Glad you agree, but it's horrifying to hear that this isn't your worst one.

"So cute you think you think you..."

Christ, you can't even write a comprehensive sentence in a short comment. Stick to your day job, buddy.

Chase WhaleSeptember 13, 2015 11:48 AM

Going to end on this. I hope this review and my ignorance to respond to your first comment doesn't dissuade you from continuing to read Twitch Film. This is a great team and I've learned a lot from each writer. Take care.

AleksSeptember 13, 2015 1:26 PM

Sure, no hard feelings. Twitch will certainly remain a source of film news and reviews for me.
Let's not do this again some time.

omnisemantic1September 13, 2015 6:34 PM

This guy has been a loser since forever - he actually tried to insult me for my Disqus profile picture once xD

Elia StKareneSeptember 16, 2015 4:54 PM

I don't want to rehash this but it had been bothering me since I had originally read the remarks between Aleks and Chase (Chase Whale...awesome name). It should have been noted that Aleks did not insult Chase in the beginning in any way. And he did say "based (ed) on the trailer". So I don't think anyone should have been bothered by that.

We as readers are fans of twitchfilm. I think we all greatly appreciate the team and the efforts. That being said we also have our opinions and sometimes we may need to voice our doubts, frustrations, or bewilderment in regards to reviews.

Most writers here have certain genre loves that don't allow a lot of criticism and that sometimes leaves us wanting to voice our own truth. An example is the love for Japanese films which seems to garner endless praise while I find almost all of theme filled with over the top one dimensional caricatures that lack redemption or completion of any story archs. Or there was the 2 years of blowing up Snowpiercer to make me feel it was going to be the greatest sci fi ever only to finally find myself bored as if I was really on that train.

So in the end both sides got out of hand. Both sides should have walked away early on. But please let us whine and bitch a bit when we need to. We do it out of the same love for films that everyone and twitchfilms has and we do it, awful as it may come across, with true respect and appreciation.

Ard VijnSeptember 17, 2015 4:38 AM