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La Haine (1995)

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.

Vinz (Cassel) becomes obsessed with killing someone when he finds a gun, which further develops his aggressive and antagonistic attitude

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


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Three Colours: Red (1994)


Three Colours: Red – IMDb 242/250

For the first time on my IMDb adventure we delve into the world of French cinema, or more specifically French/Polish cinema, as number 242 on my IMDb list is the final part in the experimental Three Colours trilogy, Three Colours: Red, directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Due to my unrelenting desire of watching things in order, and the fact that the DVD I bought came with all three films, I did also watch Blue and White, which I will briefly touch on.

Three Colours: Blue starts the trilogy with Juliette Binoche starring as Julie, a woman who loses her husband and daughter in a tragic car accident. Supposedly created as an anti-tragedy, Blue is wonderfully filmed and as a piece of art I think it works beautifully, but I did find myself getting a little lost with the story, and some of it just felt unnecessary to me. Such as the random cuts to black – they really went over my head.

6/10 – though on IMDb it just missed out on a place in the top 250.

Three Colours: White, the anti-comedy of the trilogy, is the least highly acclaimed of the three, but probably the one I enjoyed watching the most. It tells the interesting story of a man who’s divorced by his wife in embarrassing circumstances, and his mission to prove to her how much of a man he is. I feel more happens in White and the story flows more succinctly, and is genuinely funny at times, with a much darker tone to Blue which I like. 7/10.

Literally just noticed all three colours make the French flag

Literally just noticed all three colours make the French flag – see how perceptive I am

But anyway, the colour that made it onto my IMDb list was Red, starring Irene Jacob as Valentine Dussault, a part time model who forms an unlikely friendship and bond with Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a retired judge who now spends his days spying on his neighbours.

Three Colours: Red is described as the anti-romance film, with several relationships or potential romances being told throughout the film, such as the unspoken bond between Valentine and Joseph, Valentine’s phone conversations with her possessive and immature boyfriend, as well as the relationship between two supposedly unrelated characters Auguste and Karin, whose lives intertwine with our main characters.

This film is beautifully shot and clearly filled with imagery and meaning, such as the use of the colour Red, and the occurring scene of an elderly figure struggling to put bottles in a bottle bank (which happens on all three films), however I really could invest in this.

Perhaps I’m just not smart enough, but when a film is more about how it looks and its deeper meanings than the story, I always think something is lost. Though it is brilliantly acted, with the relationship between the two leads an interesting one, the overall plot is forgettable and it’s actually hard to argue there is one. (Perhaps that’s the point)

In fact when writing this review I struggled to remember what actually happened!

Disgust turns to friendship between Valentine and Joseph

Disgust turns into an unlikely friendship between Valentine and Joseph

I’m not someone who can’t watch a film where dialogue is more proficient than action, and the dialogue here, even with subtitles, is excellent. But if when a film ends and the credits hit and you think, well what was the point of that, you know your enjoyment is minimal.

Irene Jacob really holds the film together, and makes it certainly worth a watch, but the b story between Auguste and Karin, which only slightly comes into play at the end rather clumsily trying to tie all the three films together, felt pointless, and while the story is original it didn’t build to a satisfying conclusion and just sort of ended. A metaphor for life? Probably not.

But perhaps I’m just missing the point and French cinema is beyond my understanding. For me though, this is the weakest of the trilogy, but IMDb reviewers clearly disagree.

My Rating: 5/10


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