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

From its very conception to its ultimate visualization, La Haine sparked a moral panic that spread across the whole of France. Courting controversy at every juncture, and building up enough political hype prior to its release that a compulsory screening was ordered by the French Prime Minister and his cabinet, La Haine was destined to be a film of great importance.

Based on real events, La Haine focuses on the aftermath of rioting following the death of a young immigrant Parisian in police custody. Choosing not to sensationalize events the story opens as the dust settles, as the flames die out and as people begin to survey the devastation of the previous night and their uncertain future.

The film turns its attentions to the lives of three friends, Vinz, Said and Hubert. All with differing views on the previous nights events, and all with contrasting solutions to the problems they face. They lead us through the building tensions of the film, through the long periods of nothingness, as each side waits for the other to make its move, and through the ordeals they face when the eventual stalemate is broken, which culminates in a heart stopping conclusion that leaves the viewer with a disturbing feeling of injustice, and a burning desire for rebellion and retribution…

Despite its gritty undertones and its overtly political stance, La Haine is a beautifully delicate and poetic film. The rise from stillness to boiling point is emphasized by the starkness of the framing, and the edgy, black-and-white cinematography adds realness to events as they escalate. La Haine is repeatedly interspersed with iconic and almost metaphorical imagery that echo the feel of the film and add a sentimental backdrop to the troubles drawn deeper into the canvas before it.

With some stylish cinematic touches, paying an unspoken homage to several Hollywood directors, the film seals its position as an important counter-culture classic by making itself undeniably fascinating to watch. The contrasting rhythm of pace and stillness definitely adds to the drama as it unfolds.

The underlying use of "Verlan," a punchy, syncopated French street slang, gives an authenticity to its characters, who, despite all being relative newcomers, deliver some of the most fleshed out, realistic portrayals of conflicting youth attitude and ambition. All of them tethered to a touchstone of hopeful, child-like naïveté, while outwardly presenting an arrogant sense of bravado. Vinz (Vincent Cassel) especially offers a disturbing view of a universal teenage mentality when his only response to his police aggressors is violent retaliation. Yet, in contrast, he also displays a deft comic touch with the most realistic impression of a French Robert De Niro you are ever likely to see.

La Haine is a unique film if only for the fact it does not apologize for what it is. It wants you to sit up and take notice, and if it has to shock you into a better realization then it is an effective means to that end.

Without revolution there would be no progress in society, and although outwardly this film has a negative approach it is consistently, underpinned with a feeling of hope and of positive change. The opening dialogue of the film tells the story of a man falling to the ground from a great height. As he falls he says to himself: "So far, so good." This is the underlying basis of the film. It is not a question of how you fall; it is a question of how you land. An eternally optimistic viewpoint, that despite the struggle things can only improve.

There is intelligence to the direction. It forces you to side with its main characters and ultimately agree with their philosophies. You find yourselves supporting the plight of Vinz, Said and Hubert, and join them in their distrust and dislike of the police. Despite Director Mathieu Kassovitz never actually showing any of the riot or evidence that the police were involved in the death of the boy in custody, you find your allegiance lies with the three boys. This is a novel approach in filmmaking, and epitomizes the daring attitude of this movie, and sets it above its contemporaries in style and courage.

Controversial in its content, aggressive in its approach and resilient in its attitude, La Haine breaks the boundaries of political correctness, taking the issues that matter from the streets and presenting them in a way that forces the politicians to take notice, and hopefully affect change by revelation not revolution. There are few films in this class that succeed in compiling a politically motivated, anti police, anarchistic standpoint into an enthralling, stylish piece of poetic imagery.

La Haine is certainly one of the great films of the late 20th century, and ultimately destined to become a cult classic with anyone with an appreciation of powerful, thought provoking and creative filmmaking.

Breathtaking cinema at its very best. Destined to be remembered for its rousing indictment of the French class system and for pushing the boundaries of political opinion, La Haine scores on every level of entertainment and importance. NG

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