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French rapper MC Jean Gab’1 plays bank robber Black in a film that’s best watched with a crowd willing to hoot and cheer along at over-the-top villains and outlandish action.
French rapper MC Jean Gab’1 plays bank robber Black in a film that’s best watched with a crowd willing to hoot and cheer along at over-the-top villains and outlandish action.

Think Shaft goes to Africa, with a French twist Add to ...


  • Directed by Pierre Laffargue
  • Written by Pierre Laffargue, Lucio Mad and Gabor Rassov
  • Starring MC Jean Gab'1, Carole Karemera and François Levantal
  • Classification: NA

There's a kind of movie that is based on reimagining movie history and possible films that were never made. The best current example is Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds as a Second World War propaganda film. Star Wars was a 1930s film serial - in colour and with a budget. Some of Guy Maddin's films look like lost European melodramas from the dawn of the sound era, set in Manitoba.

With Black , French director Pierre Laffargue revisits the Blaxploitation genre of the early seventies, which gave us such films as Shaft , Superfly and Foxy Brown , but adds his own Gallic twist: What if a Blaxploitation film was in French and set in post-colonial Africa?

The result is a kitschy but mostly entertaining story involving an African bank heist, evil arms dealers and a dose of supernatural hokum. The film, which has travelled the festival circuit (including the recent Toronto After Dark Film Festival), is deliberately aimed at the midnight-movie audience and is probably best watched with a crowd that's willing to hoot and cheer along at the over-the-top villains and outlandish action.

The opening credits roll over a memorable funk version of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a pair of Parisian garbage men drive through the morning streets. Their truck is stopped by an old African man, ranting about a pending supernatural showdown. As he crosses the street, he points to one of the garbage men in the passenger seat and declares that he can tell by the scar on his cheek that this man is "the Lion."

As it turns out, the scar-faced man, a.k.a. Black (MC Jean Gab'1), is actually a robber en route to an armoured car heist, which ends up in failure and bloody mayhem. Black is left hiding out in his apartment feeling depressed. He even thinks about going straight for a millisecond before his cousin calls from Dakar with a hot tip: A local bank will soon be the temporary home to a bag full of contraband diamonds, ready for the taking.

Black assembles his team and flies to Senegal, where he soon learns that other parties are also interested in the loot. This leads to many gun fights, tossed grenades, slowly exploding vehicles, and a few unexpected twists as well.

The star is a French rapper who, like his character, has done a stretch of prison time before gaining success. He isn't very emotionally expansive but he has a muscular body, an impassive face and just a hint of mischief in his eyes, which is all that an action hero needs. Also, he's not working alone. Black is aided by a sexy Interpol agent, Pamela (Carole Karemera), who can shoot, punch and drive as effectively as he can. At a critical point, a large group of machete-wielding, loin-cloth wearing wrestlers join their team for the big showdown against their rivals.

The bad guys are led by a Russian general (Anton Yakovlev) who spits and snarls like the Tasmanian Devil from the old Looney Tunes series. His ally is Degrand (François Levantal), a French arms dealer with a case of supernatural psoriasis. His African mistress is a witch who is bringing out his inner snake to make him more powerful.

To fight back, Black and Pamela are compelled to get a shaman's help to tap into their inner beasts, a lion and panther respectively. Soon, they paint their faces like cats and make loud growling noises when they have sex.

Connoisseurs of French cinema may recognize Laffargue's homage to Jacques Tourneur's 1942 classic Cat People . Fans who have gone to the bathroom before the climactic scene may wonder if they have returned to the wrong theatre.

Still, Black is the kind of movie you have to respect for doing what it sets out to do. Now no one need speculate on what it would be like if Shaft went to Africa and wore totemic pussy-cat makeup to defeat his enemies. And the question needn't be raised again any time soon.

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