La Haine – 25th Anniversary
Rather than writing about another post-lockdown released movie, I am celebrating what I think is one of the most culturally important films of French Cinema: Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine.
Not only is La Haine still relevant after all this time, but over the past 25 years, La Haine has gained relevance, to the point where it could come out this week and be seen as nothing less than a mirror to today’s society. Set in the violent suburbs just outside of Paris, home to a large amount of immigrants from around the world, La Haine (translates as the hate) kicks off with a suitably hard hitting title sequence with real-life footage from some of the riots of the time. And from that opening sequence the viewer will be immediately struck by a sense of recognition. What we see on screen is really happening, and it’s happening right now.
La Haine depicts the struggles of three friends growing up before this backdrop of police brutality and rioting that pulls no punches. After one of the groups’ friends, a young North African, is mercilessly beaten by the police during a catastrophic late-night clash, the three of them spend the day hanging around the streets, chatting aimlessly about irrelevant subjects, awaiting the news of their friend’s condition. Disallowed to go and see him in the hospital, they can only wait for the TV to tell them whether or not their friend has been killed.
Over the course of this day, the boys start to get ideas about how they will react to the possible news of their friend’s death. Vinz – an early role by the great Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Irreversíble) – is eager to get revenge on the racist and oppressive police force. Saïd, however, wants to stay out of trouble for fear of getting imprisoned and the harm it would bring to his family.
After finding a handgun mistakenly left behind in the riots, Vinz vows to kill a cop if his friend dies in the hospital. Perhaps the most iconic scene in the film is Vinz’s imitation of Robert De Niro’s famous Taxi Driver scene: “you talkin’ to me?” Similarly to De Niro’s Travis Bickle character, Vinz is a ticking time bomb of hatred and disgust for the world he lives in and the people in it. However, whereas Scorsese once presented to us an illustration of loneliness and extreme isolation, Kassovitz presents us with a feeling shared by the masses of this Parisian “ghetto,” the vast communal buzz of a society at constant boiling point. Vinz isn’t an individual – Vinz is a pawn in a mob driven by the hate.
The most frequent (and generous) comparison La Haine gets is to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Although the latter centres around a hot day in which tensions are building toward a devastating uproar while La Haine focuses on the aftermath to its respective devastating event, both depict cultural upheaval on a small scale whilst addressing the issue of where brutality fits into a world of racism.
So how has the world changed 25 years since La Haine?
Here is a brief summary of some of the events of 2020:
•George Floyd murdered by police officer in racist attack “I can’t breathe”
•Donald Trump has peaceful protesters tear gassed on his way to church
•CNN reporter Omar Jimenez handcuffed and arrested by police on air while covering the Minneapolis protest
•Over 75 US cities see violent protests 7 days after the murder of George Floyd
•Donald Trump tweets: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”
La Haine proved in 1995 that anyone who believes we live in a classless, indiscriminate society was mistaken. But have we really progressed since then?
Pierre Aïm’s cinematography is as beautiful as it is raw. The stark black and white is essential for the film to achieve its highly stylised take on social realism. Although the images have been described by many as “poetic,” they work in harmony with the gritty drama.
25 years later, La Haine is still daring, groundbreaking and in my opinion extremely relevant. I only hope it will find its way to a new, larger audience.
The film is bookended by the following quote. If you ever get round to watching it, please tell me your interpretation.
“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land”
As I am sure you can guess, this film absolutely has 5 stars from me!