La Haine - Movie Review
A film which will never escape controversy, Mathieu Kassowitz's La Haine is a story of three friends (one black, one Jewish and one Arabic) struggling to cope with the harsh realities of life in tough suburban Paris.
Shot in an appropriately bleak black and white, the story follows Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Kounde) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) in the 24 hours following riots in their harsh Parisienne suburb, during which their friend Abdel is beaten to within inches of his life by police and is intensive care as a result.
Kassowitz originally shot the film in colour, but switched to black and white in post-production, a decision which in my opinion benefits the film: the relentless repression of expression by the French state and the irrevocable discrimination against these people are issues addressed throughout. The major issue presented is doubtless that of police brutality. Countlessly referred to as 'pigs' by the main characters and portrayed as violent thugs and hypocrites, the French police are certainly the main target in what this film tries to say.
The narrative centres on Vinz finding a policeman's revolver after the previous night's riots and his subsequent power trip, which results in him vowing to shoot a police officer if Abdel finally dies as a result of his beating. This 'suburb' or 'banlieue' is not akin to those we have in Britain and certainly not to those in the USA: almost everyone is either unemployed or not attending school, and everyone seems to be bored, trapped inside this monotonous, sprawling mini-city.
We see some beautiful shots which tell us Kassowitz has an impressive bag of tricks: it's a shame he's went on to make Vin Diesel popcorn fodder. The performances really are second-to-none, Cassel leading the pack with his portrayal of the egotistical and brash fantasist Vinz, who dangerously models himself on Travis Bickle from Scorsese's Taxi Driver. It's no surprise he went on to star in films as good as L'Appartement and Irreversible, as this really is a larger-than-life piece of acting. The soundtrack of French hip-hop is brilliantly refreshing. If one was to construct an introduction to this insightful genre, it probably wouldn't be far from the track listing of La Haine.
The supporting cast hold their own, particularly the police force: all but one of them belligerent and ignorant. However, this is not as biased a work as it first appears. Our main characters do nothing to help themselves, and they will never escape this desperate way of life unless they sacrifice their pride. This really is a tale of two sides unwilling to back down, and chaos, horror and grime ensue.
This is not to say the French governing bodies were at all satisfied with it. Then Minister for the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy (yes, him) and Kassowitz exchanged a series of letters on the film's attitude towards police brutality, and the film has continued to be referenced whenever the suburbs erupt.
A poignant piece of work, La Haine will not disappoint cinema fans into the likes the French New Wave or similar modern films such as City of God, with which it can draw many parallels. Its unrelenting entertainment is hard to come by in a film addressing such morbid issues.
by David Crow