La Haine (1996): 'The World Is Yours'

It's not the fall that matters...It's the landing.

La Haine provided me with my first delicious soupçon into French cinema.  Handed the DVD by a friend who wouldn’t stop raving on about the brilliance of the actors, the genius of the director, the arresting power of the monochrome cinematography, I was absolutely dreading the pretentious tripe I expected to sit through, and just wanted to get him off my case. Now, some ten+ viewings later, I can tell you that, yes, he knew what he was harping on about.

Mathieu Kassovitz, probably most recognisable to British audiences as Audrey Tatou’s love interest in Amélie, was the man behind the camera for La Haine, his second piece of directorial work, dealing with France’s issues of class and race. Previously ignorant to France and Paris in particular’s history of prejudiced views towards ethnic minorities, La Haine allowed me to glimpse at least one interpretation of the Capital’s Banlieue or suburbs, without feeling like some icky voyeur.

We follow three young men; Vinz (Vincent Cassel) the intense Jew, Hubert (Hubert Koundé) the cool and calm African, and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) the cock-sure, jesting Arab, as they spend an aimless day hanging around their estate. There’s really nothing for them to do; there are no jobs for them to go to, no projects to be worked on, no classes or school, so we instead watch them travel through the concrete jungle, soaring sky-rise apartments met by surprisingly vast areas of openness, all working together to dually create feelings of imprisonment and vulnerability.

Kassovitz makes it clear, to me at least, that these aren’t bad kids. They don’t deserve to become outsiders of society, and only will be as a result of a culture that would rather abandon them and distance itself, than resolve the catch-22 position it’s put these young men in. (To clarify, this isn’t an issue that I naively believe is in some way unique to Paris.) The police are corrupt, seemingly more so the closer into the city centre you go, and even the one ‘good guy’ that we meet, proves a useless shield in such a bigoted battleground.

The backdrop of the narrative, the shooting of Abdel at the hands of the police, which acts as a spark that unites the young of the Estate in their hatred of the force and a call to arms, was rooted in reality. In interviews promoting the film back in 1996, Kassovitz talks about the death of an 18-year-old black youth, who was shot to death by a policeman during interrogation in 1992. In the opening sequence, a line reads; “This film is dedicated to those who died during its making”, which coincided with Parisian riots in July of 1995. Our three protagonists are immediately tied up with the identities of all those real boys and young men who lost their lives at the hands of the police, and you realise that what you’re about to sit through is important.

I can flick through multiple images and moments in my head, that would prove this film’s well-deserved place within the realms of a must-watch; the long held shot that takes the audience from the open window of a DJ, across the landscape of the Estate, the cow Vinz hallucinates, passing by in the background, the terrifyingly inevitable final moment of the film. It’s a chocolate box filled to the brim with praline centred hearts, no coconut blocks; nothing is wasted. There is depth, humour, morality and so much more that Directors twice Kassovitz’s career have been unable to create.