On New York City's Lower East Side, Roy (Gilbert Giles) is the black working class superintendent of a tenement building who stumbles across a brutish boyfriend going whup ass on his girlfriend, Lisa (Yelena Shevchenko). Roy promptly returns the whup ass favor, dispensing of the humbled Greg and inviting the now homeless Lisa back to an empty room in the tenement building that he manages with a knowing comment of "Don't worry, I'm not interested in white girls."
Set in the 1990's and written/directed by Boris Frumin, a native of Russia who transplanted himself in the U.S. during the 1980's, Black & White
is the latest film to pick up the Facets Limited Edition treatment. Facets, a stellar non-profit out of Chicago with a film preservation agenda, offers rare, exclusive titles a home video distribution as part of its "Limited Edition" series. Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival and winning of an Audience Award at Mannheim Heidelberg International Film Festival, Black & White
paints a touching portrait of the immigrant experience and an insightful glimpse of what it means, even in this land of opportunity, to be considered an outsider.
As it turns out, Roy genuinely is a good-hearted man in a world where such good-heartedness is rare and even a little bit scary. The building's owner, Donald (Patrick Godfrey), is just the opposite - a chauvinistic pig willing to exploit any and every woman he meets to satisfy his ego and his cravings. He treats his girlfriend, Barbara (Gina Delio), as an afterthought once he encounters the beautiful Lisa. Yet, it's abundantly clear from early on that his only interest in Lisa is sexual.
While the film's DVD cover would seem to indicate that we're in for another epic take on the issue of interracial romance, there's much more going on here. In fact, while there's an undeniable yet rather chaste spark between Roy and Lisa, Black & White
is actually much more concerned about the world in which these people live and how they try to survive it.
The two friends eke out a meager living, their budding relationship constantly thwarted by their own economic realities and personal responsibilities. Roy, an amiable and caring man, has a young son and a father who lives in the building. Lisa, on the other hand, is doing all she can to survive and, more often than not, it's of a sexual nature. Both Giles and Shevchenko give natural, grounded performances that work nicely within the construct of the film's obviously lower budget and rather grainy camera work. There's not an ounce of pretense in their performances, giving Black & White
an aged sensibility that makes it a bit surprising that the film was first released in 1991.
Patrick Godfrey isn't quite as successful as Donald, at times leaning towards a jarring caricature that conflicts with the more authentic leading performances. When Donald finally gets a bit of a comeuppance during an overnight stay at a seedy YMCA, Godfrey's slightly larger than life performance really registers.
Black & White
isn't a groundbreaking film, but it's a terrific independent film that fits comfortably in the growing Facets Limited Edition catalogue. Boris Frumin does a beautiful job of creating a real slice of the American experience and setting within it a diverse group of people who respond to their daily lives in ways both poignant and troubling. The film doesn't feel "powerful," yet it's a film that will likely stay with you long after the closing credits have rolled.
For more information on Black & White,
visit the film's Facets Video website page.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic