Love + Hate
Time Out says
We can but hope. If only our TV channels did serve up more stuff like Dominic Savage’s first piece for cinema – the stuff of improvised, open-minded drama that investigates the realities of life for young people in Britain without adopting the hysterical, prescriptive approach of films like the lamentable ‘Kidulthood’.
Maybe, though, Savage’s work isn’t entirely unlike good television. It’s true that he cut his teeth in three feature-length dramas for the BBC, ‘Nice Girl’, ‘When I Was 12’ and ‘Out of Control’, the last of which was an impressive study of life in a young offenders’ unit and won him the award for Best British Film at Edinburgh in 2002. It’s true also that Savage’s unfussy visual style, desire to use inexperienced actors, dependence on research and concern for some of our country’s more desperate social issues smacks of the work of some of Britain’s best small-screen dramatists – Ken Loach and Alan Clarke in particular. (Unsurprisingly, Savage’s cameraman for ‘Love + Hate’ is regular Loach collaborator Barry Ackroyd.)
But does this make Savage old-fashioned, unoriginal and better suited to the misery dump of the box? Certainly Savage’s approach is familiar – but the subjects of his inquiries are undoubtedly modern. The results, too, are strikingly up-to-date and credible. There’s a welcome jolt in ‘Love + Hate’ when two characters speak casually in a factory staff-room of the Iraq war and the attitudes of British Muslims towards it; British cinema rarely dares to ground itself in current affairs.
The plot of ‘Love + Hate’ is a twisting, turning beast that pitches prejudice against feeling; it’s realist in the details, but also Shakespearean in its contrivance and reliance on public pretence and private confession. Naseema (Samina Awan) is a teenager from a British Muslim family who is starting work at a local wallpaper shop in an unnamed north-western town. Her parents wish her well, but her older brother Yousif (Wasim Zakir) derides her first-day nerves: ‘What are you so excited for anyway?’ he snaps. Yousif is suspicious of his sister leaving the bounds of her family; and his suspicion proves valid when she falls in love with her colleague Adam, a nervous young man who is overtly a racist (‘You’d never fuck a Paki, would you?’ he asks an incredulous brother) but in truth confused about his desires and beliefs.
The gulf between the social strictures of Naseema’s religion and the strength of her love for Adam is mirrored in her brother Yousif, who at home preaches against inter-racial relationships but at night cruises the town centre looking for quick sex with pliant white girls. It’s here that he meets and, to his surprise, falls in love with the feisty Michelle (Nichola Burley). The pretence can only last so long, though: Michelle works in the same shop as Naseema; while her father works in the same factory as Yousif. You can see the painful knots in which Savage’s plot ties itself up. The fun – and pain – comes in watching those knots unravel.
This is a film about masks – and the removal of them in favour of love. Interestingly, Savage (as in his other films) is most concerned with youth, letting adult characters take a back seat. Naseema and Yousif’s parents, for example, barely feature at all. It’s this interest in kids today that drives Savage’s tight concern for language too; research and improvisation allow him to come up with the goods when it comes to authentic dialogue. Others may preach against youth while at the same time investigating them; Savage’s outlook is benign. This plays out in an ending that is resolutely optimistic; it could, as Savage is surely aware, be so very, very different.
Cast and crew