Dusting Off… La Haine
What is it?
This 1995 French-language film written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz stars Vincent Cassel in one of earliest lead roles as Vinz, a young Jewish man growing up in a run-down Parisian ghetto with his friends, an Arab named Saïd and a black boxer named Hubert. The film tells the story of their lives in an increasingly diverse neighbourhood, dealing with persecution from an institutionally racist police force whose daily harassment threatens to raise tensions between themselves and the residents to boiling point.
When a young man from the area named Abdel is beaten unconscious by the police, the angry residents begin to riot on the estate. In the ensuing mêlée on of the police officers drops his gun, which is found by Vinz. Abdel is hospitalised and an enraged Vinz determines that he will kill a police officer if the boy dies.
There are eerie parallels between the events in the film and those which sparked the London riots around Tottenham; in fact, on the day before the London’s most recent mayoral elections a report in The Guardian stated that several hundred people had gathered for a screening of the film on the area’s notorious Broadwater Farm estate, home to Mark Duggan and also the scene many years earlier of the death of PC Keith Blakelock. The film is undeniably provocative but it also offers a glimpse into a world that is too often whitewashed over by the wider media and represents a rare insight into some of the issues surrounding both our society and our institutions.
Why should I revisit?
Despite being filmed on a virtually non-existent budget, La Haine is stylish, well-written and features performances from little-known actors that would embarrass many a Hollywood star on a multi-million dollar fee. Despite it’s meagre showing in terms of box office receipts the film has, over time, become something of a cult classic and can be credited with launching Vincent Cassel’s film career. The black & white cinematography helps create an air of gritty realism but still manages to be rather beautiful, with some extremely smart camera work in places, including a proper ‘how-did-they-do-that’ moment during a scene in which Vinz is staring into a bathroom mirror.
The dialogue is smart and engaging while the film’s frequently intense moments keep the viewer absorbed in this realistic and often brutal depiction of life on the streets of France’s poorer neighbourhoods.
Who will enjoy it?
If you’re fan of challenging films that don’t shy away from difficult subject matter, or if you’re after something different to your usual Hollywood fare, this film is well worth a try. We can’t promise it will be comfortable viewing for some, but Kassovitz’s intense drama is politically-themed cinema at its most essential.