1001 Movies: La Haine
Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine is moody Parisian cinema at its best. Superbly shot, with a black and white aesthetic that is as grainy as its narrative, alongside a young cast of talent who are charged and ready to blow at any moment, this fine piece of film is like a boiling kettle; teeming with anger and social frustrations that could bubble over – and most likely will – when you least expect it. Unsurprisingly, Kassovitz’s trophy 1995 film is well-watched among Western audiences and it kind of stands as some kind of introduction to world cinema. However be warned, this is paced at a speed that takes its time, thoughtfully exploring Vinz (gloriously portrayed by Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Kounde) as they navigate suburban life in a melting-pot Parisian ghetto on the outskirts of the eccentric city.
Controversial upon release, due to the removal of a rose-tinted glass and the presence of a director with political wrong-doings on the brain, La Haine quickly became an important piece of cinema. Important because it was made in a time of uncertainty in France. Popular tourist locales such as Saint-Michel and the Arc de Triomphe were the target of bomb attacks and the government were pushing austerity on local citizens so, when this feature with its gloomy visuals and perceptive script – which likely echoed the thoughts of a whole country of young people – hit cinemas, it made a quick impact. Conducting a search on the film I came across an article on The Guardian, written by Andrew Hussey entitled La Haine 20 years on: what has changed? and as my eyes read over the first half of this feature I couldn’t help but be hit by this wall of emotion as Hussey so blatantly spells out why Kassovitz’ film is still so pertinent to today as it was to then. La Haine retrieved all of the frustrations of France and put that into three young characters who epitomised how it felt to be from a multi-ethnic and hurting background. This is a big theme in the film: hybridity and the separation that not simply being French (as a relevant example) would arouse. But this isn’t just a film about the ethnic diversity seen in most areas in Northern France, it’s about the unease of the time and the light in that somewhat dark tunnel (excuse the analogy) that provides a glimmer of hope.
La Haine follows Vinz, Said and Hubert over 19 hours (give or take) from their home in the Banlieue – an impoverished and crammed housing estate – to the centre of Paris and back again. While in the city the trio experience all kinds of encounters with strange people as each individual’s personal anger erupts; with Vinz relishing in the thought of violence; and Hubert the quiet pacifist; to Said who pretty much sits on the metaphorical fence. Following the death of friend Abel while in police custody the Banlieue is riled as authorities try to contain the issue as these young men attain temporary freedom on their journey through Paris. Director and writer Kassovitz is a dexterous helmer as he leads his characters through the reality of life in a provocative and eerie way. Different motifs are used to quietly represent the zeitgeist of the time – at least for those living in a housing project – as we see the three friends sat in a play park fitted with animalistic imagery, raising questions of their status in the social system, and watch inter-textual references of Vinz asking himself in the mirror ‘Are you lookin’ at me?’. One thing is for sure, Kassovitz knows his film.
Throughout the run-time there’s this constant sense of not fitting in, from literal small spaces creating a claustrophobic aesthetic to disputes between the trio and others outside of their bubble. Kassovitz is sure to represent the lack of contrast between Paris and the Banlieue in terms of the feeling of unease among Said, Vinz and Hubert and as an audience member you adopt their attitude, especially following that fateful ending. Mathieu Kassovitz didn’t just create a memorable moving-image with La Haine he woke up France – and perhaps the rest of the world – to the discourse of the authorities and the woes of a forgotten people. This is still poignant some 20 years later.