Modern Cinema From Around the World: A Review of Mathieu Kassovitz’s “La Haine”

La Haine follows three friends, Vinz, Hubert, and Saïd through their wanderings in and around Paris. The film begins in the aftermath of a riot, where police arrest and injure their friend, Abdel Ichacha. News stations begin to plaster Ichacha’s image all over the headline news, highlighting his importance immediately. Vinz (Vincent Cassel) is a Jewish man who is more aggressive than his friends and who openly, and actively, participates in the riots. Vinz is a character who has a vendetta against police and promises to murder a police officer if Abdel Ichacha dies. He is the wild-card of his friends and preoccupies himself with street culture. He says he was raised on the street, even quoting the famous, “You talking to me,” scene of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver in a mirror with an imaginary pistol. Hubert (Hubert Koundé) is probably the most “on the level” of the three, he is an Afro-French man who gets his gym burned down during the riots. Hubert’s goal is to leave the projects to live a better life, away from violence. Hubert is more level-headed towards his family than the others; Hubert gives his family money for utilities. Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) is a North African Muslim who portrays himself as the ringleader. He is a big-talker, who is not afraid to voice an opinion between the other two friends.These characters live in the banlieues, or the projects outside Paris, where there is a large police presence after a riot turned violent.

The opening credits provide a necessary transition into the lives of our three characters, with a story of a man falling from a skyscraper and a molotov cocktail engulfing an area with flames. Abdel Ichacha is a character based on an actual person who was killed by an accidental gunshot. As a real life inspired film, the director looks at characters with minority status— dedicating the film to, “those who died during the making,” which flashes on the screen in the beginning and is telling of the film’s ruthless tone. The three characters in La Haine are all minorities of Paris, targets of discrimination, and police brutality. Another important aspect is that Vinz, our main character who participates in the riots, is the one that stole the police officer’s revolver. The news reports on the missing firearm are extensive, while we learn that Vinz is the one hiding the firearm— he soon starts to take this pistol with him while his friend, particularly Hubert, is critical of his decision to carry around the firearm. The film also uses reggae music and archival footage of police brutality during the opening credits, to show the violence and uproar taking place during this period. Additionally, The film uses time (24-hour span) as a way to create tension for the audience who know that something will happen when the clock strikes a certain time. Kassovitz has the time flash on the screen at certain moments, which attests to his striking editing.

Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert
https://imdb.to/3cOeSLF

The film opens, as I previously mentioned, with a story of a man falling from a skyscraper saying, ‘So far, so good,” while he falls. The man falling is shown again at the end of the film, replacing “the man” with society as a whole. Society falling from the skyscraper is an interesting rendition of the random brutality, and a lack of empathy, our main characters have to deal with in the projects. As immigrants, Vinz, Said, and Hubert are the ones most affected by police interaction. The interactions between these three characters and the outside world is almost always borderline violent, mostly with police. For example, in an art gallery in Paris the three try to approach two women they find attractive and as soon as Saïd enters the conversation the women begin to feel uncomfortable. The three friends begin shouting and as the owner escorts them out and closes the door, he states, ‘the troubled youth.” The art gallery shows the three friends to be of a lower class compared to the people attending, possibly trying to make a statement on the exclusivity of these events. Another example is when the three friends leave Snoopy’s apartment and police, without uniform, hassle them. Vinz pretends to not be with them, leaving the apartment slightly after his friends, lying that he is staying with his Aunt, and finally he pushes one of the officers over and runs. The officers take the other two (Hubert, Saïd) to an undercover location where they torture them. On account of this encounter, the three miss their train and end up spending the night on the streets. They soon learn that Abdel Ichacha is dead.

In retaliation to their friend’s death, Vinz aims a pistol at two traffic cops and shoots them in his imagination. We get to see these cops fly into glass as Vinz fires as another example of striking editing. Vinz seems to battle internally his relation to the streets, and his ability to kill in these moments. They spend their night on the street, and Vinz says a profound line, “I feel like an ant lost in the intergalactic universe,” which is telling of their present situation and shows how society negatively treats them and others in their situation. As the three of them are on a roof and shout at some skinheads below, they soon encounter skinheads on the ground floor. First the skinheads attack Saïd and Hubert when they recognize them from the rooftop. Vinz saves his friends by pulling out the revolver. Hubert eggs him on to kill the final skinhead who is left behind. Hubert tests Vinz’s moral compass and his macho street persona by taunting him to kill the last skinhead. Vinz chooses to not do it. This moment tests Vinz internally and he recognizes that the life of a killer is not for him. However, this revelation is short-lived after Vinz gives Hubert his gun, and the police stop Vinz and Saïd. The ending is shocking and unexpected, and can not be unseen. 

Finally, a memorable moment in the film is when the old man character approaches the three in a bathroom:

Old man:

Nothing like a good shit! Do you believe in God? That’s the wrong question. Does God believe in us? I once had a friend called Grunwalski. We were sent to Siberia together. When you go to a Siberian work camp, you travel in a cattle car. You roll across icy steppes for days, without seeing a soul. You huddle to keep warm. But it’s hard to relieve yourself, to take a shit, you can’t do it on the train, and the only time the train stops is to take on water for the locomotive. But Grunwalski was shy, even when we bathed together, he got upset. I used to kid him about it. So, the train stops and everyone jumps out to shit on the tracks. I teased Grunwalski so much that he went off on his own. The train starts moving, so everyone jumps on, but it waits for nobody. Grunwalski had a problem: he’d gone behind a bush, and was still shitting. So I see him come out from behind the bush, holding up his pants with his hands. He tries to catch up. I hold out my hand, but each time he reaches for it he lets go of his pants and they drop to his ankles. He pulls them up, starts running again, but they fall back down, when he reaches for me.

Hubert:

Then what happened?

Old Man:

Nothing. Grunwalksi… froze to death. Good day.

The old man’s story puzzles the main characters. They wonder why he told them this story, but I believe his story ties into the main message: it doesn’t matter how you fall but it matters how you land. The story is memorable in that it shows that you can be the reason for your own downfall— mainly one’s pride. This story is humorous and thought-provoking at the same time.

I believe La Haine is a tremendous piece of work that provides us with a rendition of street-life that ends on one of the most surprising deaths in film. I believe Kassovitz depicts the lives of these character’s faithfully and believably in an area with police brutality. The urban landscape is rundown and believable, and I was enthralled by the performances, particularly Vincent Cassels’ Vinz. The three characters are perfect in that they are a demonstration of ruthless and random way fate occurs. Our characters also show their insignificance in a larger world through their relation to the world around them. Life can be taken at random, which is an important takeaway from La Haine. Vinz’s character seems to be the one that the audience can empathize with when he is realizing that street-life is not for him. He is not a killer, and he does not have the stomach for the criminal life. He tries to present himself through an overtly masculine persona that fades towards the end. One of the most memorable scenes is when the DJ plays music and there is a bird’s-eye view shot— we really feel the expansive world our character’s inhabit. They are just three of many who suffer in this world.   

3.65 out 5

— Christian Mietus, Blog Editor.


Christian’s Bio:

chris

Christian is a Junior at Lewis University who is an English major and a minor in Film Studies and Russian Language and Culture. In 2019, he received the “Dr. Stephany Schlachter Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship Award” for his collaborative piece “Assimilation through Sound.”  Additionally, his poem “The Japanese Photography is Covered in Dust” is forthcoming from City Brink Magazine. In his free time, he appreciates and dissects cinema as well as consistently rating and reviewing it. Some of his favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavettes, Ingmar Bergman, and Kenji Mizoguchi. He also appreciates different art forms, such as music and literature. Christian hopes to continue expanding his skills as a writer and to encourage others to do so as well. He writes about film for the JFR blog, so check out Christian’s Cinematic Syntax.


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