Essayist Lance Morrow has written: "Hatred is difficult to discuss. The mind resists it. The subject is amorphous, disorderly, malignant. . . . The reason the subject is hard to discuss is that hate is simultaneously a mystery and a moron. It seems either too profound to understand or too shallow and stupid to bear much analysis." Nonetheless, the worldwide epidemic of hate crimes, violence against strangers and outsiders, and ethnic anger is something that cannot be ignored or taken lightly.

Michael Haneke is an Austrian writer and director who has a special interest in the anonymity, conflicts, loneliness, and disorder of city life. In this compelling and patience-testing film set in Paris, a group of people try to cope with the exigencies of modern life where predators and victims of hate abound.

In the opening minutes of Code Unknown, Jean, a restless teenager who yearns for freedom, tells his sister-in-law Anne about his dissatisfaction with working on his father's farm. Later on the street, he crumbles up a piece of paper and scornfully throws it in the lap of Maria, a Romanian woman who is begging on the corner. Amadou, an African passerby, tries to get the youth to apologize and then winds up in a scuffle with him. The police arrive and blame the African. He is arrested, and the beggar woman, an illegal immigrant, is deported.

Haneke skillfully draws us into the lives of other characters related to these individuals: Jean's father who plunges into depression upon realizing that his son doesn't want the legacy he's worked so hard to give him; Anne's boyfriend Georges, a war photographer who has just returned from the Balkans and doesn't know what to do with himself now that his life isn't in jeopardy; and Amadou's father, a taxi driver who dreams of returning to Africa.The film is carried by Juliette Binoche's multidimensional portrait of Anne, an actress who puts herself out there to be evaluated in several auditions and performances in films. She's having a hard time connecting with Georges and feels guilty about her inability to protect a child in her apartment complex who always seems to be screaming out for help.

In the most scary and realistic scene in Code Unknown, an angry Arab youth decides to single Anne out for abuse on the Metro. When she ignores his diatribe and moves to escape his verbal attack, he follows her and eventually spits hatefully in her face. A middle-aged Arab man comes to her assistance before anything further can happen. But she remains deeply shaken.

The unknown code in this startling film, in which all the pieces fit together like a gigantic puzzle, is hospitality — an open and warm-hearted courtesy where individuals can accept diversity and live contentedly with strangers and outsiders. This film proves that hate is indeed both a mystery and a moron whose presence looms large in cities all over the world.