"HOW TO Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired" is one racy movie title, but it's only skin-deep. It's a mere attention-getter, a deliberately provocative phrase designed to encapsulate the racial stereotypes surrounding the black male, from stud to naif.
But Jacques W. Benoit's French-Canadian comedy, adapted from Haitian author Dany Laferriere's novel of the same name, is less a conscience-searing tract than a playful good time. The movie succeeds (and shows its deepest truths) precisely when it doesn't take itself seriously. It becomes trite, even sophomoric, when it occasionally strains to show the racism inherent in the system.
Man (Isaach de Bankole), an aspiring writer with an eye for the ladies, is living in Montreal with quasi-mystical Bouba (Maka Kotto), a stay-at-home sage who quotes liberally from Freud and the Koran, reveres jazz and sleeps for days at a time.
The women who come regularly through the place provide the black roommates with ongoing grist for their evolving observations about the city's white politico-sexual landscape. They watch women, they make tea for them, they make love with them, they even give their female guests monikers: "Miz Literature" (Roberta Bizeau), for instance, is a university student who learns by day and slums by night. "Miz Suicide" is a fervent, gullible disciple of Bouba's, who's been dreaming of ways to kill herself since she was 12.
Director Benoit gives "Negro" a pleasant European-movie atmosphere of cafe-table philosophizing and women-chasing. But he and Laferriere (who co-adapted his book) are less adept with scenes designed to show up the racial maladroitness of white-wine liberals, or the more overt hostility from the drug dealers in the local park, who keep threatening not only to deep-six Man, but to bring this movie to a melodramatic close.
The main interest of the movie, and in fact its greatest strength, lies with de Bankole, who steals the movie with his squinty-eyed, improvisational charms. The star of French director Claire Denis' atmospheric African sojourn "Chocolat," de Bankole does little more than act as himself, but it's a constant pleasure to watch.
In a way, this loose structure, with de Bankole being de Bankole is not unlike the French art films of the 1950s and '60s, which involved a camera, a lissome, pouty demoiselle and an impromptu "story" built around her. You watch the way he eats, the twist of his body, the shrug of his shoulders and, in a sense, you're watching Brigitte Bardot as a tireless, male Negro.