31 August 2010 | GrandeMarguerite
Colorful Blacks and Whites
French director Thomas Gilou has obviously an interest in cross-cultural identities and minorities. He has thus depicted the French-Arabic community in "Raï" (1995) (also a little bit in "Michou d'Auber" - 2007) and the French-Jewish (sephardic) community in "Would I Lie to You?" (1997), his biggest hit so far. In "Black mic-mac" ("Black Mix-Up") (1986), he has portrayed French-Africans in a gentle and warm way, albeit not always in a very subtle manner.
This comedy covers no less than immigrant life, family unity, culture shock, interracial romance and black magic(!). With such ingredients, you would expect one of those challenging intellectual films that the French are (sometimes) so fond of. On the contrary, "Black mic-mac" displays a good-natured humor and always remains on the light side. The "mix up" starts when some African squatters in Paris, threatened with eviction, find themselves fighting against the French administration. For fear that no good will come from the bureaucrats, our group of African squatters turn to their best option to solve the problem: they call for a sorcerer from home. The target will be Michel Le Gorgues (Jacques Villeret), a preventive health service inspector who has to investigate the case. The guy is actually a well-meaning but zealous civil servant who knows nothing about the customs of Paris' African community he discovers little by little (as we do when watching the movie). The sorcerer hops on a jet to Paris to cast spells on Le Gorgues, and while en route he strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger, mentioning his job pays quite well. The very idea of making some money is quite appealing to the interested passenger who decides to take the sorcerer's place. Once he arrives, the impostor has to act like he knows what he is doing, and at the same time, he had better solve the eviction problem...
It has been years since I have watched "Black mic-mac" (when it was released first, then maybe once on TV). I think it would be interesting to watch it again today, first to check how the movie has aged (probably nicely as I have kept a good overall impression), then in the light of what is going on in France nowadays with the new laws on immigration. It is somehow amazing to realize that back in the mid 80s, forced evictions of immigrants were seen as a potential subject for comedies in French cinema, while now it is the basis of much more militant films (see for instance "Welcome" by Philippe Lioret and "Eden à l'ouest" by Costa-Gavras). Yes, reality has taken over in the meantime. And yet, even though it promotes some unsavory stereotypes (e.g. all Africans believe in black magic and keep live chickens in their house, etc.), "Black mic-mac" remains a refreshing and amusing little comedy. Of course, all things end well and Le Gorgues gets eventually "bewitched" (but not quite as it was intended). One of the biggest hits of 1986 in France, the movie also features a fine score, a good mix of West African music with songs from Youssou N'Dour, Papa Wemba, Salif Keita, to name just a few. Isaach De Bankolé, who plays the scheming but helpful impostor, won a French César for Most Promising Actor in 1987, the first Black actor to win a César ever. One piece of advice: avoid "Black Mic Mac 2" (1988) with a completely different cast and director, which got extremely poor reviews when it was released in France. For that reason, I have never bothered to watch that sequel.