Cinophile: La Haine

3 min read
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“F*** you, I won’t do what you tell me!” goes the popular lyric by Rage Against The Machine. It couldn’t describe this movie any better. 

The frustration, powerlessness and anger of the poor and disenchanted is a common theme in popular culture. France is no stranger to this, frequently visiting the underbelly of its society in its films. But not that many tackle the thorny issue of urban class wars and the riots that erupt around them. The slums of Paris have long been a flash point for angry uprisings, a situation that was particularly volatile in the Nineties. Its during this period that we enter the world of La Haine.

Three friends from the projects – a Jew, an Arab and an African boxer – go about their day in the aftermath of such a riot. Things are tense, especially since a mutual friend is lying in hospital after a severe beating by the police. But matters step up a notch when one friend reveals he has a gun that an officer lost during the riots. Imbued with this new sense of power, he threatens to kill a cop if the friend ends up dying.

On one hand La Haine aka. Hate is a study of the anger that sits behind these riots and the disenchanted youth who are at the front line of the violence. It throws a lot of punches at the police and La Haine is certainly not an objective movie. As such it attracted a lot of controversy in its homeland. But La Haine is also a visual treat. Director Mathieu Kassovitz shot the movie in black and white, using impressive transitions and interesting shots to convey the mood of the story. One stand-out sequence was shot using an elaborate rig, allowing the camera to glide over the streets of a Parisian slum. He draws deeply from the influence of past French cinema and the result is both stylish and jarring.

Completing the scene are the actors, who are all scene stealers with lively dialogue and great performances. There is a certain relaxed flow to everything, but punctuated with an uncomfortable intensity –  not unlike another generational cage-rattler called Kids. Certainly a lot of the deeper meaning of La Haine might be lost to foreign audiences, but we can still enjoy the strong story, interesting characters and fantastic visuals.

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La Haine was Vincent Cassell’s breakthrough role and made him a star in France. He later would become known to Western audiences in the Ocean’s movies and Black Swan. Director Mathieu Kassovitz went on to make several films, but the most noteworthy were flops such as The Crimson Rivers and Babylon A.D.
Fans of the Asterix comic books might be amused to learn that a name in the film was changed for its U.S. release. The character ‘Asterix’ was changed in the subtitles to ‘Snoopy’, because American audiences were not that familiar with the cartoon Gaul, who is a national hero in France.
La Haine was so controversial that when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, local authorities refused to give the filmmakers any protection. But it became a huge success. Jodie Foster is a big fan of the film, orchestrating its release in the U.S. and even recording a special message in the collector’s edition.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: August 11, 2014

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