La Haine

Mathieu Kassovitz, France 1995, 94 minutes

A critically acclaimed hit, winning the 1995 Best Director prize at Cannes, La Haine (“Hate”) is a tale based on the real life ghetto riots in urban France. The film follows three teenagers, Vince (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Kounde) and Said (Said Taghmaoui), all living in the ghettos, all petty criminals dealing drugs, full of angst and rage; all wanting a better life but unable to see a way out.

A friend is beaten up in police custody, and this sparks off a series of events that begins a journey down a path of destruction. Vince gets a gun and in his bitter rage becomes a human time bomb –counting down and awaiting detonation. Director Mathieu Kassovitz delivers a powerfully emotional comment on the state of society and the decay and destruction caused by urban deprivation. His message is clear: “This is how it is, what are you going to do about it?”; intercut documentary footage of real inner city riots remind you that this is not too far from reality. However, the somewhat typical French cinematic depiction of the police as complete pigs does let the film’s originality down a bit. And the political correctness of having the three main characters represent the ethnic diversity of inner city life (Vince the White, Hubert the Black, and Said the Arab) is also a little too neat. But I’m just nit-picking.

The black and white visuals are stark yet striking, the acting is second to none, and Vincent Cassel is truly terrifying. Social commentary and thought provoking statements aside, La Haine is, at the end of the day, a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Review by Steph Wright
Written for EUFS Programme Spring 2002

Kassovitz's La Haine is, for my money, the best film of 1995. Imagine the movie of a Rage Against the Machine track, but without the empty sloganeering. La Haine is it. We open with in-your-face news footage of rioting on a Parisian cite. Two vital facts: (1) A youth from the housing estate, Abdel, is in a coma, the result of injuries recieved at the hands of the police. (2) A cop's gun was lost during the rioting. Cut to the cite. We are introduced to a trio of Abdel's friends. Hubert is a big black guy, a would-be-boxer with an introspective side. Said is a fast talking Arab. Vinz is an edgy Jew, and has the missing gun. Their ethnic differences aren't an issue - everyone is united against the cops. If Abdel dies, Vinz intends to revenge him by killing a cop. Cue a tense day in the lives, all to a booming (French) rap soundtrack...

Kassovitz deservedly won a best director prize at Cannes for his work. He pulls of some startling images - just check out the mirrors composition in the washroom; or the zoom-in/track out on the balcony which out-vertigo's Vertigo; or the Vinz-shoots-a-cop fantasy sequence. Yet, at the same time, he largely avoids empty flashiness. As with the music, his main cinematic influences are American - Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Do the Right Thing are obvious reference(d) points. But Kassovitz is only reclaiming his own cinematic heritage here, given the extent to which both Scorsese and Lee have appropriated nouvelle vague techniques. It's also the way that Kassovitz uses other movies that makes me suggest anyone who worships Tarantino should go see La Haine; for all his admiration for Godard, Tarantino seems determinedly apolitical. He makes movies about movies, but appears unwilling or unable to connect with the real world. Kassovitz, by comparison, connects the movie and the real worlds. He shows what is likely to happen if someone tries doing movie stuff in the real world. You can't play at being Travis Bickle, as Vinz does, and expect to get away with it...

"An uneasy sense of menace throughout... even more shocking than Trainspotting. ****" - Empire

Review by Keith Brown
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97