Dir/scr: Dominic SavageUK. 2005. 86mins.
A timely call forracial tolerance set in an unnamed town in northern England with a large Muslimcommunity, Love+Hate will be energised, for UK distributors, by thecurrent debate on the resurgence of Islamic identity among apparentlywell-integrated second- and third-generation immigrants.
Ona simpler level, though, this is a classic Romeo & Juliet yarn: agirl and boy from opposite sides of the divide fall in love; their affair looksset to be crushed by peer-group bigotry and family pressure. It's a film inwhich the spirit of Ken Loach - and the BBC drama tradition he emerged from -looms large, not only because it treads ground already explored by the Nuneatonauteur in Ae Fond Kiss.
Writerand director Dominic Savage - who at the age of 12 played the young LordBullingdon in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon - sets his film in theworking-class heart of Loach-land and like il maestro, he prefersnon-professional actors. He even poaches Ken's faithful DoP sidekick, Barry Ackroyd.
Butdespite the parallels, Love + Hate, Savage's first full-length feature,doesn't feel too derivative. Savage has a distinctive style: glossier than thatof maestro Loach (probably a result of the young pretender's pop video past),but saved from superficiality by its grounding in well-drawn charactersspeaking lines that ring true, and by the refreshing tenderness of the centrallove story.
Thisis an altogether better-crafted product than the director's 2002 made-for-TVfeature Out Of Control, though it shares that earlier film'sover-conventional plot development.
Onestep beyond its obvious TV roots, Love + Hate should have a fair tomiddling tour of duty in UK cinemas and see some arthouse action in territoriessuch as France and Italy, which love to see the multi-ethnic side of theBritish in films such as Sweet Sixteen, Dirty Pretty Things or EastIs East.
Shotin Blackburn, Lancashire, the film spins its Romeo and Juliet plotline out ofthe stand-off between Asian and white communities which has led to riots inscarred industrial towns like Oldham, Bradford and Burnley.
Seventeen-year-oldNaseema (Samina Awan) lives with her Muslim family in one of the terracedhouses that snake up the hill from the town centre (symbolically above, anddistanced from, the social hub). Starting a job in a local discount wallpaperemporium, Naseema meets Michelle (Nichola Burley), a likeable underage womanwho has just begun dating a "paki" boy.
Theother store employee, Adam (Hudson), is openly hostile to Naseema because ofthe colour of her skin. But Adam is not a hardened racist, just a sensitiveyoung lad who is too much under the influence of his nasty elder brother Sean;and true to the script, his animosity towards Naseema is a smokescreen for anentirely different feeling.
Love+ Haterelies unashamedly on coincidence: Michelle's squeeze turns out to be Naseema'sbrother, who happens to work in a factory with Michelle's father (no spoilerthis: we learn it a few minutes in). Hypocrisy and prejudice on both sides oilthe wheels of the story: one of the most chilling moments of backstory exegesiscomes when Adam and Sean's nice middle-class mother treats their bricking of a"paki" shop as a spot of boyish high spirits.
Theneatness of the parallels (white male peer pressure and Asian family pressure)and character chicanes is in the end more elegant than annoying - mainlybecause it is grounded in a series of affecting and committed performances bySavage's troupe of mostly first-time actors.
Ackroyd'sphotography here has a real cinematic feel, with surprisingly little of thehandheld, documentary-style camerawork that one might expect of such a grittytheme. The prominent indie rock soundtrack (by Snow Patrol et al), and theupbeat ending will extend Love + Hate's appeal to the youth market -though they also leach the drama of some of its raw power.
UK Film Council
David G Hill