La Haine – IMDb 223/250
As I continue you my painfully slow process of watching the top 250 films on IMDb as of June 2015 (2 years I have been doing this…. reviewed 27 films), I’ve found the time/motivation to do my next review, this time of the gritty black and white French film La Haine from 1995.
Described aptly by some as urban cinema, La Haine tells the story of three early 20s, ethnically diverse Frenchmen played by Vincent Cassel, Hubert Konde and Said Taghmaoui, as they spend a day traversing through a divisive and troubled Paris in the aftermath of a riot.
Unlike the Paris we see in Hollywood cinema, director Mathieu Kassovitz stays away from the idealistic vision we usually see of the city of love and instead depicts Paris as a gritty and impoverished place riddled with class divide, racism and societal conflict, highlighted by his use of the black and white filter which creates a moody and inescapable feeling for us as an audience watching our three young protagonists.
The performances from the cast were really spot on. Cassel does an excellent job of portaying Vinz as a youth in turmoil. His hatred towards the police is relatively justified but his distrust leads to unnecessary violence and anti-social behaviour, but Cassel manages to create sympathy for a character who really acts as an antagonist through much of the film, and someone who will divide opinion on his motivations and beliefs, even more so now on a modern audience.
But the majority of the sympathy in the story lies on the young laps of Hubert (Konde) and Said (Taghmaoui), who have to deal with racism and abuse on what seems like a daily basis, which is depicted to us most vividly in a deplorable scene when they are racially abused and humiliated by a group of sadistic policemen, fueling their anger and hatred towards those in authority.
Hubert though is the one who seems the most driven to escape the life he has been given, and understands their behaviour of violence and aggression towards their aggressors isn’t the answer. He states poignantly ‘hatred breeds hatred’, and in the last scene of the movie we see this play out first hand, but it is a recurring theme throughout the film.
The most telling aspect La Haine for me though was how relevant it still is in today’s society. As the world inexplicably continues to march towards right wing politics which looks to divide and segregate nations and its people, this film set in 1995 has these same issues playing out on screen.
In fact it mentions Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen who like her daughter was the leader of the National Front, an ultra right party in France looking for much stronger immigration rules and a push towards right wing politics. Really the characters of Hubert and Said would be seen by Le Pen as the kind of immigrants who she would believe are ruining France, thus creating the divide we see in the film between them and authority, and the divide we still see in today’s society.
Although I understood the point the film was making though and the France Kassovitz was depicting, I still found La Haine a hard film to watch.
I sympathised with all three main characters, but I didn’t like them. I understood the circumstances that they find themselves in but this doesn’t excuse their at times aggressive and obnoxious behaviour, particularly in the scene at the art museum where rather than being rebellious they were simply hostile and rude, and you couldn’t condone their behaviour. I found it hard to identify with any of the characters without constantly trying to justify their actions, and the black and white filter although adding to this effect of the dark underbelly of Paris, did give the film a drab feeling.
As a political piece of cinema La Haine hits all the right notes and perhaps Kassovitz wanted it to be a hard and uncomfortable watch, patricularly for someone like me who doesn’t have to face the hardships Vinz, Hubert and Said go through constantly, but personally I felt we don’t really get a character we can fully get behind, nor a story which truly develops or intrigues until the very last scene, when it was already too late for me.
La Haine: 6/10
If you’re interested in French cinema, check out my review of Three Colours: Red