As the opening credits roll for Mathieu Kassovitz's raw, vital and captivating "Hate," we're shown clearly authentic footage of a riot in one of Paris' dreary suburban housing projects. We're told that it's been sparked by the severe beating by police of an Arab youth, Abdel, and then continuing in black-and-white, Kassovitz introduces us to three young men who are his friends.
They are Vinz (Vincent Cassel), a Jew; Hubert (Hubert Kounde), a black; and Said, an Arab; and Kassovitz follows them throughout a restless, aimless day and night after they've learned that their friend is in the hospital and might not survive.
They are best pals--routinely hassled by the cops, sometimes with needless and extreme humiliation and savagery--and a lot of what they do goes well beyond prankishness into the outright criminal activities that are doubtlessly a basic means of support. They are frustrated and oppressed, but Hubert, an aspiring boxer and by far the most intelligent and reflective of the three, and the good-natured Said are capable of keeping their cool. Abdel's fate, however, has given focus to Vinz's rage and could easily consume him and others should Abdel die--especially since Vinz has gotten hold of a gun.
They all live in a vast, fairly new Postmodern-style project that's already heavily vandalized, an example of failed social planning so familiar in the United States. But then the entire film has a deliberate American feel and serves as a comment on the well-nigh universal saturation of American pop culture--and also the widening gap between rich and poor around the world.
Kassovitz's young men dress American-style, listen to American music and use American expressions. As for Kassovitz, his own go-for-broke visual bravura and highly charged storytelling are so American in feel that the news that he plans his next picture for Hollywood seems inevitable.
Yet this strong American influence serves Kassovitz well in setting off the camaraderie between the three young men who would not likely be as close if they really were American. They are united in poverty and a common enemy, a racist, bigoted French bourgeoise exemplified by the brutal behavior of the deeply hated cops, and their solidarity lends the film both irony and poignancy.
Kassovitz's amusing debut film, "Cafe au Lait," an up-to-the minute romantic comedy involving an interracial menage-a-trois, in which Kounde also appeared, scarcely prepares you for the scalding "Hate" with its bold, even flashy style; Pierre Aim is Kassovitz's can-do-anything cinematographer. Yet the film, which last weekend won the Cesar Award as France's best film of the year, is highly expressive of the tumultuous passions that grip Vinz, Hubert and Said, all of whom are played with grit and impact. (One of the few other key presences in the film is Tadek Lokcinski as an elderly man who tells them a wry tale of survival.) "Hate" is a visceral fable of a divided society heading blindly for a crash-landing.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film has much strong language--the English subtitles are unusually colloquial--violence and adult themes; not for youngsters.
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'Hate' ('La Haine')
Vincent Cassel: Vinz
Hubert Kounde: Hubert
Said: Said Taghmaoui
A Jodie Foster, Egg Pictures and Gramercy Pictures release of a Les Productions Lazennec presentation. Writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz. Producer Christophe Rossignon. Cinematographer Pierre Aim. Editors Kassovitz, Scott Stevenson. Costumes Virginie Montel. Art director Giuseppe Ponturo. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500.