Love + Hate Review

There’s not too much room for ambiguity or complexity in Dominic Savage’s debut film, which rather appropriately bears the rather Manichean title of Love + Hate. With a subject matter based around a couple of mixed race relationships, everything is, as you would expect, pretty much black and white.

With not a particularly long running time, the script is however nothing if not clear and efficient at setting out its stall. Within ten minutes it manages to impart to the viewer that Naseema (Samina Awan), a young British girl of Pakistani origin, is 17 years old and starting her first job – working at a discount wallpaper store. Introduced to the other workers Michelle (Nichola Burley) and Adam (Tom Hudson), their questions and behaviour soon fill in the remainder of the blanks and set up how the rest of the film is to be played out. Why did the young white boy Adam walk out when she came in and why won’t he speak to her? Why doesn’t she have a boyfriend? Is she religious? The questions may as well be rhetorical, as it the situation is blindingly obvious. A young Muslim girl, Naseema would never have had a boyfriend, and certainly not a white one. Not like Michelle, who, although also 17 years old, regularly goes out with boys, particularly Asian ones. Adam, is a young racist, but there is more to his discomfort at Naseema being around than just race hatred - he fears he could be attracted to the young Pakistani girl.

Within this first ten minutes we are also introduced to another mixed race workplace situation where Naseema’s brother Yousif (Was Zakir) is having a discussion about the war in Iraq with a colleague Pete (Peter O’Connor), who just so happens to be Michelle’s father (quite a coincidence, but might as well get used to it early…). The lines are immediately drawn in the conflict between being British + Muslim, the conflict between physical attraction + bigotry, between friends +, the conflict between love + hate – love and hate, love plus hate.

If not particularly original or thought-provoking in the moral stance taken (racism = bad, tolerance = good), Love + Hate is at least neatly and cleverly packaged. Perhaps a little too contrived however to be completely convincing. One relationship is set up to show the differences in attitudes between an Asian man going out white woman and an Asian woman going out with a white man, which is all well and good, and it does pinpoint the hypocrisy in the thought, although in reality it’s not much different really from pointing out that there are different rules for men sleeping around and women sleeping around, and race and religion don’t come into that. But, we’ll generously grant them the point as an “issue”. The problem however is that Michelle who works with Naseems is – just by chance – going out with Naseema’s brother Yousif, who – just by chance – works with Michelle’s father Pete. Although going out with Michelle, Yousif is hypocritically opposed to his sister going out with a white boy, who – just by chance – is part of a gang of thugs who carry out racists attacks and – just by chance – well, I’ll not give too much away… Suffice to say, there are probably more coincidences than the relatively short length and narrow frame of subject matter can sustain.

Love + Hate then is an issue film, one that – since it is funded by the National Lottery, the BBC and the UK Film Council, would appear to be of the kind that needs to tick all the relevant politically sensitive boxes, and not be at all ambiguous or unclear about it. There’s no real story, the characters are paper thin and the situations are contrived all to make the rather unremarkable point that mixed race relationships in areas of racial tension are quite dangerous, that racism is bad, and that isn’t it better to be tolerant and love each other rather than hating each other? Blow me down, what a revelation.

Within these limitations however, there are quite a few good points to note about Love + Hate. For all the weaknesses of the plot and characterisation, the dialogue is spot-on and no doubt thoroughly realistic in the situations where boys get together, expressing racist, sexist and macho attitudes, and the way this spills over into acts of violence. It also captures the behaviour of young girls, looking for love and adventure in socially deprived areas, the conversations they have with each other and their sharing of confidences, and the little moments of dreams and illusions they find in another person who might be able to take them away from it all. The dialogues, apparently largely improvised, are given further conviction through the superb performances of all the main cast, particularly the younger actors (Nichola Burley is outstanding as Michelle). The cinematography – by Ken Loach regular Barry Ackroyd - is also excellent, shot in Blackburn with a good eye for urban locations that express, without it needing to be overemphasised, the circumstances of the urban inner-city deprivation that gives rise to racial tensions. These are the strengths we can rely on from British filmmaking, so it’s a pity that once again they are let down by the script which – perhaps, I don’t know, in order to meet the necessary criteria for funding – is saddled with the same old issues and even-handedness in approach, shoehorned into a rather dull urban fairytale romance story.

Love + Hate is released in the UK by Verve Pictures. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The video quality of the transfer is reasonably good, the image clear and reasonably detailed with good natural colours and tones. The transfer does however appear to be interlaced, causing quite a bit of blurring, though how much depend on whether you have a progressive display or not. Although a relatively short film, on a single-layer disc there can be quite evident macro-blocking compression artefacts in backgrounds. Apart from the compression issues however, the image quality is generally very good. Unfortunately, the transfer is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1, while clips from the film included in the Behind The Scenes featurette give away the game that the correct aspect ratio of the film should actually be 2.35:1. Rather than being cropped however, it would appear that the frame has just been opened up – see comparison shots below. It’s not the original aspect ratio then, but the compositions would suggest that it could well have been framed with both ratios in mind.

The audio mix is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 and it’s fine throughout, with no issues or problems. There’s a lot of pop music on the soundtrack from Ian Brown, Keane and Snow Patrol, which are well chosen, if perhaps given a little too much prominence in the film. They come across well in the mix.

There are no subtitles provided, for hearing impaired or even just for those who can’t make out every word through the sometimes strong accents.

The film comes with a full-length Commentary with the director Dominic Savage and cast members (Naseema), (Adam), (Michelle) and (Yousif). It doesn’t reveal any new depths to the film, but the commentary is amiable enough, the cast revealing their impressions and memories of how they shot the scenes, the director talking about the locations and the choices made in filming and scripting. The Trailer (1:57) gives a good indication of the subject matter and how it is handled. The Behind The Scenes (8:52) is a good brief introduction to the director, his young actors and how they worked together.

Love + Hate is well-made, well-photographed, well-acted, competently scripted with a good ear for dialogue and situation, but it is all rather too contrived to deal in any way realistically with the issues it raises. If it had something original to say it wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s nothing in its call for racial tolerance that is going to make anyone question the attitudes they had before they saw the film. It’s disappointing that the talent in UK filmmaking is clearly evident here, in the ability of the cast and the crew, but it appears that no-one in the British film industry is prepared to green-light any kind of script that is the least bit challenging or innovative. Barring some minor reservations about the aspect ratio, Verve’s UK Region 2 DVD release serves the film adequately.

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