'How to Make Love': occasionally funny, pointed satire

December 03, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

If "How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired" had been titled, "The Writer, His Book and his Girlfriends," which is as descriptive a title as anything, it certainly wouldn't have become the success de scandale that it has, and it certainly wouldn't be opening today for a two-day run at the Charles.

The title, with its boisterous deployment of the stereotype of black sexual superiority and its equally defiant usage of a word that is officially obsolete, is fully half the show. Maybe even two-thirds.

What remains after the credits disappear from the screen is an occasionally amusing and pointed satire of black Caribbeans and white liberals struggling with their misconceptions of each other in the cosmopolitan literary culture of Montreal. A minor subplot, about three dope dealers angry because they think the blacks are taking over, is hardly worth the entire sentence it takes to describe it.

The movie makes one excellent point -- it deals with a rarely dramatized subject, the dangers of hagiographic racism. Of course everybody recognizes and laments the racism that denigrates blacks as subhumans; but "How to Make Love to a Negro" casts a gimlet eye at a subtler formation of poison: that is, the equally pernicious "liberal" racism that elevates anyone, on the basis of skin color and stereotype alone, into superman.

It follows the exceptionally pleasant Isaach de Bankole as "Man," an emigre writer living in the Canadian city; buoyant, charming and not unwilling to profit from the stereotype, he has no trouble attracting a great many attractive women, all of whom find his brand of guff irresistible. But the director Jacques Benoit (working from a novel by Dany Laferriere) always makes clear the joyous cynicism with which Man and his jazz-loving roommate Bouba (Maka Kotto) exploit the situation.

The movie thus does one thing that the citizens of Montreal are unable to do: It insists on seeing people as human first, and members of a racial group second.

De Bankole's performance is superb, as are several others in the film; but much too much time is lost on the hazy subplot, and much too much time is wasted on the chronicle of his writing his book on a dinky typewriter in a park. He's a writer like "Paul Sheldon" in "Misery," who churns out effortless, publishable prose without a single typeover, cross-out, re-arrangement or failure. He manages to write without working, not a bad trick at all.

'How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired'

Starring Isaach de Bankole and Maka Kotto.

Directed by Jacques Benoit.

Released by Angelika Films.


** 1/2

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