La Haine (1995)

Review #1,469

Director:  Mathieu Kassovitz
Cast:  Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui
Plot:  24 hours in the lives of three young men in the French suburbs the day after a violent riot.

Genre:  Crime / Drama
Awards:  Won Best Director & Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  97 mins
Rating:  Not rated
International Sales:  Le Pacte

“Hey, why'd he tell us that?”

La Haine is one of those films that is impossible to come out of unshaken.  And it came at a point in French cinema—the mid ‘90s—when it needed something radical or explosive; a film that would blow the fish out of the water.  Mathieu Kassovitz, in only his second feature, achieves that, and whether he likes it or not, will be immortalised for directing one of the greatest French films of the last 30 years.

Winning Best Director at Cannes, Kassovitz—best remembered as that guy from Amelie (2001)—delivers a boiling pot of a film that deals with the undercurrents of racism, abuse of power, and violence in a suburb of housing projects catering to underprivileged families and restless youths.

Operating through an expressive camera—free-wheeling aerial long takes and quick zooms—that also captures the setting's grittiness and ‘ghetto’ flavour, La Haine brings us into the unfiltered psyche of three young men at the cusp of adulthood: a Jew (Vincent Cassell), an Arab (Said Taghmaoui) and an African (Hubert Kounde).

We follow them through the course of 24 hours as racial tensions rise amid a climate of social unrest.  The setup: a policeman loses a gun in a riot the night before, sparking uncertainty as to who is in possession of the weapon.

La Haine doesn’t preoccupy itself so much with the who, where, or even what of things; instead, the film rolls along in the present tense, shaping the ever-changing experiences of the trio, and then hurtling them towards a shocking, if not entirely surprising, climax.

In between some incredibly harrowing experiences, Kassovitz inserts moments of understated humanity—one of them features a monologue in a public restroom by an old man who recalls a memory of WWII, bewildering the trio.  It is a strange scene, yet it could be La Haine’s most inconspicuously—and subliminally—important, one that contextualises the present through a fragment of the past.

Through history, hate appears to be the human species’ most prized possession—what morbid pleasure, it seems, to fill oneself with hate, and to feel oneself being hated in return.  Kassovitz takes this cycle of collective self-mutilation, and through his flawed characters, personify with unrelenting agency our propensity for violence and racism.  La Haine is a rare film that has improved with age, losing none of its cinematic power.  In fact, it is timeless and forever timely, for as long as hate—or Man—exists.  

Verdict:  An explosive socio-political work on race, hate and violence—and losing none of its cinematic power more than 20 years on.





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