Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flick of The Day: La Haine / Hate

Bursting onto the scene in 1995 with today's flick of the day, La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz was the next big thing in French cinema compared perhaps stupidly in hindsight to Spike Lee. La Haine was a controversial film on it's release dealing as it does with issues of race, violence and the class divide in modern France  and went on to win the Best Director prize at Cannes. This early promise has yielded mixed results at best with the risible Halle Berry vehicle Gothika and the perhaps best forgotten Vin Diesel starring Babylon A.D being the highlights.
La Haine documents a day in the life of three disaffected youths from differing backgrounds in the grim Paris banlieues. Vinz, played by Vincent Cassel perhaps the best French actor of his generation, is Jewish and a hot head spoiling for a fight with the police. Hubert, played by Hubert Kounde is black and a promising boxer who is the opposite of Vinz and tries to preach the path of least resistance. In the middle of these is Said, played by Said Taghmaoui, who spends his time keeping them apart. Jobless and penniless and without prospects of either, they spend their days hanging around the housing estate while at night engaging in skirmishes with the local police. As the film opens, another youth has been seriously injured by police in a riot. With tensions high on the estate and the police at breaking point, a cop loses his weapon in the chaos and it falls into the hands of one of our three  friends. As the day turns into night, we seem set for tragedy on the streets.
Shot in a stark black and white, this is a worryingly relevant film even today. The terminal decline of the Paris banlieues has if anything accelerated and the problems of race and the class system are as divisive as ever. As I write this, the French police are currently attempting to capture a man accused of murdering 6 people of ethnic origins in a hate crime and in the upcoming French elections, immigration will be a focus of attention in a country where the national front routinely wins a quarter of the vote. The use of black and white photography by Kassovitz highlights that the divide is not so much on ethnic grounds as it between the haves and have nots. Vinz, Hubert and Said are a Jew, an African and a Muslim. Not obvious friends if society is to be believed and yet they are joined by their struggles to escape the Paris slums.

Hubert: 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!

Kassovitz shows a side of Paris that is not on any tourist trail. The Eiffel tower is glimpsed only in the distance and any interaction with the cultural centre only reinforces the fact that these guys are outsiders.
At the time, La Haine was compared to the early work of Spike Lee in terms of its angry social conscience. Perhaps a better comparison would be to some of the New York films of Martin Scorsese in terms of capturing a Zeitgeist such as Taxi Driver and Bringing out the Dead. While perhaps inspired by these films, it is a work of true originality and at times brutal truth. It avoids the clich├ęs of "honour in the hood" seen in American films such as John Singleton's Boyz N The Hood.
An important film that still has the power to shock even 17 years after its release, La Haine is a must see. It is as Paris as you haven't seen it and is as relevant a portrait of the city today as it was on release. It introduced the world to Vincent Cassel who would go on to be perhaps the biggest star in French cinema today while Hubert Kounde and Said Taghmaoui would build strong careers. Well worth a viewing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Follow by Email