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Madjid, a son of Algerian immigrants, and his friend Pat are condemned to spend their youth in the dreary concrete blocks of a Parisian suburb. They are seventeen years old and, as they have already left school, there is nothing much to do for them. An incorporation into working life fails due to the lack of efforts (Pat) or the racism of the job center employees, who do not accept Madjid's unwillingness to adopt French citizenship. Not surprisingly they both end up as criminals and alternately act as pickpockets, car thieves, burglars, robbers or pimps.
But the descent of the young leading characters into the maelstrom of delinquency is by no means the only topic treated by a film whose intention it is to portray as many facets as possible of this suburban society. There are numerous other characters, too, who all have their own tragic story to tell. Just take Justine, a young drug addict, who never leaves his refuge in the basement of the apartment house. Or take Solange, an alcoholic prostitute, who carries on her trade in the huts of immigrant workers. Mr Levesque has alcohol problems, too, and when he is under the influence he beats up his wife and daughter. Josette, on the other hand, is no longer abused by a violent husband; she is left alone with her child Stéphane, and when unemployment is added to her distress the situation culminates in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Pat's sister is not out of work, but instead of the office job she claims to occupy, she works in a Parisian red light district, where one day she sadly is detected by Madjid...
The only one who seems to have come to grips with his life is Balou, who used to be the class loser, and who finally ran away after he had been teased one time too often by his mates. Now he returns as an upstart underworld boss, in a classy car, lighting his Havana with a fivehundred franc note.
This is only a small selection, but it illustrates what the film wants to make clear: The world of the Parisian suburbs is grey and dismal, and every attempt to lead an existence that is worth living is nipped in the bud. It is therefore not surprising that the adolescents try to escape from it. In a stolen Mercedes they drive to the sea, and it is there that they experience the wide distance that stands for a dream of freedom - at least temporarily. For the moment of ecstatic euphoria is extremely short-lived and is soon ended by an approaching police car. Madjid is arrested without any resistance, it seems as if he has realized the pointlessness of fight in a world that has already determined their journey through life without mercy and does not offer any scope for a positive change.
But the movie at least sends us away with a touch of hope. Pat breaks off from his escape and positions himself at the roadside in order to wait for the police car in which Madjid is held. When it arrives he raises his arm like a hitch-hiker would do. For him the loss of friendship carries more weight than the renunciation of a freedom that has proved to be an illusion anyway. If you do not stand a chance to hold your own in this world and to fulfill your dreams, at least there is one consoling certainty to which you can cling: You are not alone.
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