Amodest but convincingly tailored “Arabz N the Hood,” newcomer Malik Chibane’s “Hexagone” traces the mostly thwarted aspirations of young, second-generation north Africans in the dead-end housing projects outside Paris. Engaging, fest-ready pic examines contemporary dilemmas with humor, poignance and verve.
Film’s characters, children of a cultural mix of restraint and resignation overseen by devout Muslim parents, are far less volatile than their American gang counterparts. Use of vivid slang, however, gives dialogue punch.
Though only a short commute from the City of Light, setting of Goussainville is a world apart from the French capital. Pic’s narrator, Slimane, is a polite, upstanding young man who looks like a 1920s Latin lover but is a modern child of Algerian immigrants. He’s eager to escape the stifling boredom of chronic unemployment and life in his still-traditional mother’s home.
Older brother Samy is a heroin addict who spends his days shoplifting. Slimane is secretly dating the prettiest girl in the neighborhood, Nacera, who wants a greater commitment.
Pic spans five days leading to the climactic Islamic feast of Abd El Kebir, during which Slimane’s circumscribed world is shaken to its foundations.
Lensed on location in areas helmer Chibane clearly knows inside out, this low-budgeter has the ring of truth throughout, with resourceful characters hemmed in by invisible walls of discrimination. It remains to be seen whether Chibane has other urgent tales to tell, but this debut is a promising new voice from Arab immigrants on French soil.
Pic’s title is a synonym for France itself, taken from the shape of the country on maps.