Dir.: Mathieu Kassovitz; Cast: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kuondé, Said Taghmaoui, Francois Levental, Karim Belkhadra, Edoard Montoute, Ahmed Ghilli; France 1995, 97 min.
French writer and director Matthieu Kassovitz was just 27 years old when he won Best Director for his second feature La Haine at the Cannes Film Festival. Yet he has only made six more features since his debut Cafe au Lait – and nothing since Rebellion (2011). La Haine turned out to be the blue-print for films about disaffected youth violence, not only in France. And unlike the “Hood” features in the USA, La Haine took sides.
The 24 hour chronicle is mainly shot in the HLMs (habitations à loyer modéré) of Chantel up-les-Vignes, forty kilometres northwest of Paris, in grainy black-and-white by DoPs Pierre Aim and Vincent Tulli. La Haine had a personal connection for the director through friends of Makome Bowole, a Zairian emigrant, who was killed by the police in 1993.
Vinz (Cassel) is from Jewish working class stock and lives with his grandmother and sister. He fantasises about murdering a cop, and his impersonations of Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver, are not just wishful thinking. Most of his days are spent hanging out with Said (Taghmaoui), a chameleon-like character looking for an identity, and Hubert (Koundé), a black French African boxer with ambitions to make a better life for himself. Race riots kick off after the police beat up their neighbour Abdel (Ghili) and suddenly something shifts in the dynamic between the three men.
Vinz picks up a gun, dropped by a cop during the hostilities, and swears vengeance on the force if Abdel dies in hospital. The three then take a ‘trip’ to Paris where they feel humiliated by their material poverty. Luxury shops and cultural hotspots are all out of their reach. Vinz feels solidarity with a gang of Nazi-skinheads but lets them get away – somehow he identifies with these other have-nots. But the next day Vinz is accidentally shot by the police and Said stays with him while he dies. A cop cocks his gun at Hubert who aims back with the piece Vinz recovered. We hear only one shot.
There are echoes of Scorsese and Spike Lee in this gang thriller, but La Haine is marked out by its gritty surrealism, a million miles away from the sassy slickness of the US directors. Kassovitz doesn’t point a finger or level any accusations: these three young men have too many contradictions in their beliefs and actions in a feature fuelled by hatred and anger: the melting pot France had become is not a comfortable place for anybody any more. Kassovitz was one of the first directors to flag up to his own nation that everyone in his film is French. Twenty-five years later, the Mouvment de Gilets Jaunes have taken the fight into the heart of Paris. AS
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