La Haine

So far, everything’s fine… We’re in the Cité, a HLM in the suburbs of Paris, France. It’s just the morning, but there’s already tension in the air. The youngsters of the hood have spent all night rioting in the streets, burning down buildings and trashing everything. They supposedly did that to avenge Abdel, a 16 year old who was beaten to death by the police. That really pissed off a lot of people in the City, especially Vince (Vincent Cassel, disturbing yet charismatic), an aggressive young Jew who took part in the rioting. We’re gonna follow him and his buddies for the next 24 hours, as they wander around looking for trouble. You see, these guys are desperate. They’re young and poor and they’re immigrants, so society seems to be against them. There’s Said, an Arab who’s always talking b.s., and Hubert, a black boxer who is more thoughtful and doesn’t believe in violence. But sometimes, violence just gets to you.

For one thing, Vince got a hold of some cop’s gun during the night, and he’s decided to get even for Abdel’s death by shooting a cop today. The Cité’s definitively not an easy place to live. The thugs there are very influenced by American culture. Hip hop’s pretty happening in the hood: scratch, break-dancing, tagging and rap are all common hobbies. But these guys have apparently also seen “Menace II Society” one too many time, and they feel the need to pack heat, talk tough and always get into fights. Director Mathieu Kassovitz has also probably seen a lot of ghetto movies. I’ve never been to France, but I’m having a hard time believing that it’s as heated as Compton or Harlem can be. But whether it’s truthful or not, “La Haine” is an excellent film.

Kassovitz’ filmmaking is very effective. He shot the picture in black & white and used real locations. His visual style is inventive and he’s a great storyteller. The film doesn’t really have a straightforward plot. We’re just following Vince and his pals on a rough day, and some themes emerge from their gripping journey. They talk a lot, and if the dialogue isn’t very deep, the topics are interesting and the French slang they use is amusing. What we gradually understand is that these guys are not really criminals: it’s just that their race, their class and their look make them potential troublemakers in the eyes of the prejudice-fueled French society (where a Nazi like Le Pen earns a big percentage of the vote). Hence they have no jobs and no prospects, they have nothing to do but hang around, and when everyone tells you you’re trouble, sooner or later you’re gonna agree and make mistakes. “La Haine” is a memorable, in-you-face film from start to the chilling finale.