La Haine

La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)

After local youth Abdel is beaten unconscious by police, a riot ensues on his estate during which a policeman loses his gun. The gun is found by Vinz who threatens he will kill a cop if Abdel dies.

This major hit from the wunderkind director of the time in France, Mathieu Kassovitz and the now established star Vincent Cassel, La Haine might be one of the most notorious French film of the 1990’s. Almost twenty years later, still actual and even more right on its telling of the racial, social, political context in modern France, this black and white drama is, by far, its director’s best offering.

With a bright black and white cinematography that can relate to some early Jean-Luc Godard films, the mise-en-scène and visual effects calls for a sheer admirer of Martin Scorsese and a bit of Mikhail Kalatozov. Sometimes it is a little annoying when watching a young filmmaker and being able to pin point his influence and homage. They are clear and well executed in La Haine even if they feel a bit forced and like a homework to show that he can too do those tricks.
Surprisingly, I tend to like the first half of films and sometimes I think that the second half never quite delivers from a great original idea. However, with La Haine, Kassovitz throws a better second part than his first half. Once, the camera tricks are out of the way, the plot gets subtler and the characters are getting more and more into it.

In the francophonie, La Haine left a bunch of lines that are as important as some Pulp Fiction lines. For the teens of the time of its release in 1995, it was a groundbreaking movie that was talking to them and about them. It depicted without any filter a reality that too many immigrants and French were living. In France, there’s a long record of police brutality, riots, and racial crimes. It did not solve the problems that are presented in the movie but it reflected a reality that eventhe media were not able to present to the public.

It is a difficult genre because it is hard to not fall into the cliché and also to be too partisan of a side. However, the three lead characters are not really sympathetic and yes we are on their side, we know that they are teenagers who make mistakes and do the best they can with what they have. Kassovitz doesn’t try to make them look like they are saints. At the end, it is anyhow difficult to not have a certain contempt for the French policemen.

After all, Kassovitz was a young and inspired filmmaker on the rise and he probably got the best film he ever did with La Haine. Even if he could have tone it down on the visual trickery and let the strong story resonate with long takes and a subtler mise-en-scène. Still, it is very efficient and will definitely leave a mark in any cinephile’s mind.

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