A layered conundrum that builds to a stunning crescendo, Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Hate” is an extremely intelligent take on an idiotic reality: the mutual mistrust, contempt and hatred between the police and France’s disenfranchised young citizens. Scripted, acted and shot with sit-up-and-take-notice verve, pic seems a shoo-in for critical and public support on home turf France, where it bows Wednesday after competing at Cannes. But this punchy, slangy, B&W effort will require savvy handling to reach its target audience in offshore markets.
Kassovitz has achieved a mature tone and narrative cohesion only hinted at in his previous feature, “Metisse” (“Cafe au Lait” in the U.S.). The scripter-helmer — who as an actor won the 1995 most promising male newcomer Cesar for his role as a slow-witted hit man in “See How They Fall”– is a multitalented force to be reckoned with.
Hard-hitting tale covers less than 24 crucial hours in the lives of three male buddies who personify a generation that’s been relegated to the no-income housing projects beyond Paris.
Dedicated to “those who died while (this film) was in production,” pic opens with an impressive docu montage of demonstrations in which angry crowds clash with France’s brutal riot police. Pic then slyly illustrates the genesis of hatred in the blind alley of societal oppression.
As title cards precisely clock the passing day, Kassovitz’s edgy, intimate camera follows three ethnically diverse friends. Relatively upbeat, hyper Said (Said Taghmaoui) is of North African heritage. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), his dense lug of a buddy, is a lower-class Jew whose brass knuckles-style ring features carved Hebrew lettering. Their more mature friend, Hubert (Hubert Kounde), is a black who conscientiously masters his emotions through boxing.
It’s 10:38 a.m. on May 27 and the news on TV concerns a second-generation Arab who remains in critical condition after having been beaten senseless by police during interrogation. That fact had prompted the young residents of the victim’s housing development to riot the previous evening.
At 12:43, the police chase some lounging residents off a rooftop, establishing that nobody has anything better to do than kill time or actively antagonize others. Although the three pals keep one another in line, that line grows jagged a few hours later when Vinz finds the loaded gun lost by a cop in the previous night’s riot.
The trio undergoes a subtle, then drastic change on an evening excursion to Paris, during which Hubert and Said are hauled in and interrogated by the cops. The three pals later get in a rumble with skinheads, which prompts an epiphany of sorts.
The in-your-face lensing, as well as more formal compositions, is used to maximum effect. Thoughtful use of ambient sound, silence and music is aces.