May 11, 2007
La Haine (1995) is a blistering howl of dissent chronicling the disenfranchised minorities living in the projects just outside of Paris. Mathieu Kassovitz’s film sheds light on the unemployed youth and the pointlessness of their existence. We normally associate inner city ghetto life with the United States but they exist all over the world. La Haine dispels the romantic myth of Paris and presents its dark underbelly.
Vinz (Cassel), Hubert (Kounde) and Said (Taghmaoui) are three friends who live in the projects at a time of great unrest. One of their own was beaten severely by police and his life hangs in the balance. The opening credits set the tone with footage of riots, clashes between protesters and the police, cars being overturned, and the streets looking like a war zone. We meet Said writing graffiti on the back of a police van (that translates to “Fuck the police”). We meet Vinz living at home with his family, reciting the famous “You talkin’ to me?” scene from Taxi Driver (1976) into the mirror. His younger brother can’t go to school because it burned down. Finally, we meet Hubert at his gym which has been trashed. He used to be a boxer but now he wanders the streets with his friends.
Like Mean Streets (1973), director Kassovitz employs restless camerawork that follows the three protagonists but goes no where, just like their lives. These guys are full of restless energy but with no constructive way to expend it and so they wander the streets or sit around talking to each other about nothing in particular. The film is shot in black and white and this gives it a stark, gritty look befitting the subject matter. Black and white usually symbolizes truthfulness and this film tells it like it is for these people who live in the projects.
Vinz is angry that the police beat one of their own and looks to even the score. If the man who was beaten by the cops dies, Vinz plans to kill one in retribution. His opportunity comes when he finds a gun. Its presence disrupts he and his friends’ daily routine. Vinz is filled with anger and the desire to direct it at the cops while Said seems to be along for the ride. Hubert is the only one that displays any kind of a conscience and a desire to get out of the projects and make a better life.
La Haine is an angry protest film that sheds light on the unrest that exists in the projects of Paris. These people have no prospects, little money and no hope for a future. They feel marginalized and this causes anger born out of frustration to bubble to the surface. This film is also a warning – one that was not heeded as evident from the rioting that broke out again in the projects in 2005 making La Haine look very prophetic indeed.
The first disc features an introduction by Jodie Foster. She talks about what drew her to the film and motivated her to distribute it in North America through her own production company. She also talks about some of her favourite scenes.
There is also an audio commentary by director Mathieu Kassovitz. He says that the impetus for the film came from an actual incident of a kid from the projects who was killed by the police while in custody. Kassovitz was actually involved in the resulting riots. Police brutality was rampant and he wanted to address all of this in his film. He cites Mean Streets as his favourite film and a big influence on La Haine. The filmmaker speaks intelligently about various aspects of his movie and the socio-political climate that inspired it.
Also included are two trailers.
The second disc starts off with “Ten Years of La Haine,” a retrospective documentary that runs over an hour and takes a look at the making of the film from the actual incident that inspired it (including news footage) to its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Kassovitz wanted to make a film that was socially relevant but entertaining as well. Several key cast and crew members talk about the genesis of the film, technical aspects like the black and white look, how the actors approached the material and so on. This is a fascinating, detailed look at this film and the media reaction to it.
“Social Dynamite” features sociologists Sophie Body-Gendrot, William Kornblum and Jeffrey Fagan talking about the film’s commentary on the state of the projects and the people who live in them. They talk about the 2005 riots in Paris and what causes such feelings of hatred in young people. Also discussed is the history of public housing and its effects.
“Preparing for the Shoot” briefly takes a look at the experience of the cast and crew actually living in the projects via video footage in order to immerse themselves in the setting of the movie to shoot there.
“Making of a Scene” dissects the scene where Vinz fantasizes about shooting a cop and how they shot that sequence.
Also included are two deleted scenes and two extended scenes with afterwords by Kassovitz who puts them into context and explains why they were cut.
Finally, there is a small stills gallery with behind-the-scenes photographs.