REVIEW: DVD Release: La Haine

Film: La Haine
Release date: 27th September 2004
Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 mins
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde, Said Taghmaoui
Genre: Crime/Drama
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: France

Drawing from his own experiences, and taking inspiration from the true life story of 17-year-old Zairian Makome M'Bowole, who in 1993 was handcuffed to a radiator and accidently shot by a police officer during a dispute in police custody, director Mathieu Kassovitz paints an unflinching portrait of “Hate”.

La Haine (Hate) follows a day in the life of three young friends living and surviving in the deprived and overcrowded multi-ethnic housing projects otherwise known as the banlieues of Paris.

When Abdel, a prominent member of the neighbourhood, and friend of the three defiant youths, is assaulted by police and hospitalized during a riot, an enraged Vinz swears to kill a member of the police in order to even the score if Abdel dies.

In contrast to the hot-headed and brash Vinz is the aspiring boxer and drug dealer Hubert of African origin. Hubert tries to show Vinz throughout the various events of the day that his criminal deed will not settle their ongoing struggle or earn him the respect he so desperately seeks. Hubert’s only wish is to find a way of gaining enough money to leave behind the violence and poverty of his lack-lustre surroundings.

The last of the trio, naïve Sayid is, at times, the mediator, and provides many of the comical one liners to lift the mood, but ultimately decides to accompany Vinz on his quest for revenge…

Despite taking part in a number of riots himself, and given the source material, the director is careful not to convey all of the police officers in the film as aggressive, brutal and racist, or the young protagonists as innocent and righteous. Instead he subverts our expectations by varying good characteristics with those whom we suppose to be bad and vice versa. For instance, Vinz, Hubert and Sayid may be endearing but they are generally not the most likable characters in film history - they are misogynistic, brash, sexually vulgar and occasionally violent. The police also vary from being overtly racist to being genuinely concerned and empathetic.

La Haine, shot in black-and-white and on location of the Parisian suburbs, is not heavily stylized, which takes the film away from the aesthetically pleasing, nostalgic and romanticized idea of Paris seen in most French Heritage films. It is clear that an equal amount of time has gone into telling a story through mise èn scene, as well as through character development and natural dialogue.

Actual news footage from the riots occurring in France during the 1990s appears in the opening sequence of the film, which helps to enhance the element of realism. This technique also establishes the film’s social context, particularly the continuing breakdown of French society due to the ongoing problems existing between marginalized second generation migrants and right-wing activists concerned by the nation’s growing multi-ethnic identity.

La Haine isn’t just another film structured on the growing tensions between the police and multi-ethnic youth; it also addresses the characters’ ability to make the right choice in the face of adversity. Take for example Vinz, the most outwardly violent of the three friends is constantly being confronted by his own inner-conflict, as well as with those around him - until the end of the film, it is unknown whether or not Vinz will follow through with shooting a cop.

It is clear as the film draws to an end that the young protagonists are struggling to find an identity within a place which labels them as deviant and illegitimate.

La Haine is an altogether brutally breathtaking film. The music, scenery and narrative work effectively in representing the cultural diversity and growing tensions within the film, and a once hostile and violent French society. TA

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