“Patser (Gangsta)” – Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah

Patser is the 3th feature film by the directors duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, 2 young men from Moroccan origin making films in Belgium and -yes!- in LA. This film is long expected, because of its cast and thematic, namely the drug trafficking and gang war in Antwerp.

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Patser tells the story of 4 friends living in a multicultural district in the city of Antwerp. Their uncertain futures and desire for wealth drives them to dealing hard drugs, despite the tough competition of other drug dealers. Their only goal is to become ‘patsers’ (gangstas), and the main force that drives them is their lifelong friendship.

The film is divided into 7 chapters, according to the Christian seven deadly sins (sloth, greed, wrath, gluttony, pride, lust and envy) Why they opted for the seven deadly sins as a narrative structure? Well, one of the main characters Adamo is one part Italian and one part Moroccan, but raised as a Catholic. The story is told in chapters by Adamo in voice-over, so he is the one who relates the story of the 4 friends to the capital vices.

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Matteo Simoni plays the role of Adamo and is supported by his 3 sidekicks Junes (Junes Lazaar), Badia (Nora Gharib) and Volt (Said Boumazoughe), the latter actor is mostly known as a rapper in the Antwerp collectives NoMoBS and SLM and also provided some songs for the soundtrack.  Simoni is the only known actor of these 4, and we all know his presence will be one of the main reasons for people to go check Patser. He is a very talented actor and his Antwerp-Moroccan accent is flawless.

The main opponent of the 4 drug dealing friends is the notorious Dutch gangster Hassan Kamikaze, a role played by the well-known Dutch rapper Ali B. His performance is phenomenal. I almost believed that he is as misogynist and aggressive in real life as in he is in the film (which he obviously isn’t)! In my opinion, his performance is the most convincing and brutal of the entire film.

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Bilall Fallah & Adil El Arbi (Credits: BELGA)

Another important part is the role of the police officer Yasser (Nabil Mallat), whose main goal is to end the drug war in Antwerp. Some of his colleagues on the other hand are very corrupt (Jeroen Perceval & Axel Daeseleire), but believe me, what goes around comes around. By the way, you might also recognise the DJ-duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike in a small role, just to close the circle of famous faces in Patser.

El Arbi & Fallah worked with Robrecht Heyvaert (The Ardennes (2015), Black (2015)) as the Director Of Photography. He is one of my personal favourite cinematographers in Belgium and he proves himself again this time. The shots follow each other at a very high pace, leaving no details in the dark. The visuals hit you like a line of coke and are dazzling. Every single shot and all camera perspectives are well considered, keeping both the characters and the location in mind. When watching, I felt like I had no time to think things over, because the pace is really overwhelming at times. Not even mentioning the inserts of neon titles, which make the whole even more flashy. The film takes over 2 hours, but it never felt this way, because of its solid pace and action-driven narrative.

Patser is full of vulgar language, which resembles the actual way of interacting between  youngsters and thugs in Antwerp unfortunately. It was disturbing at times, a bit too much, which I guess some viewers will confirm. Nonetheless, this is the only negative aspect, and I found the cursing less disturbing than how some of the male characters act overtly disdainful towards women. Moreover, the use of Moroccan slang (‘tfou’, ‘drarrie’, ‘tnawies’,….) and Arabic dialogues add credibility, which is definitely an asset.

The audience seemed to have the tendency to compare Patser to the directors’ previous feature films Image (2012) and Black (2015), but in my opinion they are simply incomparable. Black was already a hit, but more modest and raw than Patser and with a young unknown cast. Patser is over the top in every single way, just like El Arbi and Fallah announced. Also visually, Patser is the most colourful film in the directors’ oeuvre. Narratively, El Arbi & Fallah offer us more backstory this time. We get flash-backs of the 4 friends when they were kids and how they grew up together. This enables us to identify with them and to feel empathy, instead of seeing them as mere thugs.

Patser is a gangster film beyond imagination with a lot of filmic references to gangster films or characters like Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). El Arbi & Fallah announced it to be epic and after watching the trailer a month ago, my expectations were as such. These expectations are definitely met, but I would describe Patser as ‘love it or hate it’. If you don’t like foulmouthed dialogues and violence, it is not your thing. Nonetheless, Patser is unique in the Belgian cinema because of its hyperkinetic pace and colourful visuals. To conclude, go and check it out for yourself!

Patser will be released on January 24th in Belgium and on February 1st in The Netherlands.

Johnny Depp brings life to monotonous “Black Mass”

12246767_10153699059592591_411165353807225750_nPublished in The Spread

Black Mass might not be the exciting action-drama fans of gangster movies we’re looking for, but committed performances from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton keep the film watchable.

bmScott Cooper’s 3rd feature film, after Crazy Heart (2009) and Out of the Furnace (2013), is the crime drama Black Mass. The film is based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob, written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill and published in 2001.

Black Mass, though labelled an action/crime film, is mainly a dialogue-driven drama that tells the life story of one of South Boston’s most wanted gangsters from the 70’s onwards, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, and his FBI friend and ally John Connolly. He helps Connolly to solve federal crimes, and in return he stays free from all legal charges against him. That, of course, does not last, and the bulk of the film explores what happens when all this corruption comes out.

The main plot, then, is framed around the hearing of the accused gang members of Bulger’s gang, Winter Hill, and is told as a chronological story from the 70s up to the 00s, making Black Mass more of a biopic than the action film some might have expected. And to be honest, I’m not really a fan of the gangster biopic, but I’ve of course seen the classics. I could easily put Black Mass in the same category as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) or Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997). Unfortunately, this one misses the extra punch to live up to these classics.

Black Mass has a rather weak plot, lacks complexity, and never reaches a real climax. There’s nothing that makes the audience want to sit on the tips of our chairs. Overall, the film is really one long continuity of small things happening without much suspense, though the strength of the actors manages to push the story forward.

The cast deserve a huge shout-out. Bulger is played by Johnny Depp, whose most popular roles in the last decade have seen him typecast as the silly moron and anti-hero, as in the Pirates of the Caribbean series (2003-2011) or in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2011). In Black Mass, Depp seems to finally break the curse of these typical roles, and is almost unrecognizable covered under heaps of make-up, a wig, and blue contacts.

Depp performs Bulger as a mobster with equal capacity for both cruelty and humanity. Throughout the film he retains his cold-blooded poker face, which unfortunately almost turns caricatural near the end. Depp’s performance – and, for the most part, his transformation – is nonetheless outstanding, but in my opinion not as remarkable as his role of Donnie in Donnie Brasco.

The real standout of the cast, however, is Joel Edgerton, playing the opportunistic, corrupt FBI agent John Connolly. Edgerton’s acting is never overdone, and always realistic. Other popular faces are Kevin Bacon as Connolly’s prosecutor, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s younger brother and member of the Massachusetts Senate, William M. Bulger. And then there’s Dakota Johnson, who plays the role of Whitey Bulger’s ex-mistress and mother of his son. Unfortunately, it’s impossible now to watch her acting without thinking about 50 Shades of Grey.

Besides the acting, another thing that keeps on catching our attention is the comical – and rather cynical – dialogue. In one scene, Bulger is supposed to tell off his son Douglas (Luke Ryan) after he has punched a kid in class. But instead of being mad at his son, he gives him tips to do the beating properly next time, saying “if nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

And as is typical for a gangster movie, there’s also a lot of profanity: at one moment I started counting the “fuck(ing)s”, and although the amount couldn’t beat Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the number of curse words is still quite impressive. bm2

The work of DOP Masanobu Takayanagi, known for his work on Silver Linings Playbook, also makes the film worth watching; he deftly manages to switch between close-ups and panoramic shots whenever it fits the moment best, and he plays with light and contrast to make the Bostonian setting less grey and chilly.

Lovers of fast-paced mafia films and the action of the crime genre should stay far away from Black Mass, because its lack of suspense and lackluster plot will surely disappoint. But for everyone else, the witty dialogue, unrecognizable Johnny Depp and superb aesthetic quality make the film well worth a watch.