La Haine (1995) - Mathieu Kassovitz

Though La Haine is cited as the rare French film that tackles social issues, it is more accurately a fable about revenge bookended by political question marks. The film opens with documentary-style footage of rioting and a soundtrack that articulates what the bloodied mass cannot, yet, even with a setting ripped from the headlines, the movie betrays an incredibly personal core.

Watching the trio of Vinz, Hubert and Said is an experience slightly similar to The 400 Blows, taking us through their every small defeat in the projects and around Paris. Hubert, an ex-con and boxer in training, provides a moral center while his friend suffers oddball visions of cows and murder. He is the most intimate with the cyclical nature violence, but fails to break it despite the best of intentions. Said remains an observer, expressing his anger through bravado and occasional vandalism; he appreciates gunplay, specifically in cinema, but doesn’t have the heart for it when it’s in front of him. Even so, he ends up in an interrogation room along side Hubert, handcuffed and at the mercy of two policemen.

Despite indelible images of police brutality, it is Vinz that leaves the lasting impression. When a handgun falls into his possession he becomes burdened by the sudden and quite unexpected empowerment. As much as La Haine tries to avoid a main character, Vinz is it. Introduced through a dream
sequence, he is the troubled youth that gives us pause; namely, one that shows promise and sensitivity, but also the stubbornness to waste it in a delusional game of parity. Though he vows to kill a cop, it’s questionable whether his boasts are enough to bring action. We are relieved when he finally cannot pull the trigger - on the most deserving of targets, ironically – and equally crushed when he dies by the hand of those he seemed so eager to strike against.

This controversial ending is what gives La Haine its much-touted stature as a politically minded film. Though we follow these characters ever so closely, seeing the lessons learned and friendships burnished, every possible balance is unsettled by an accidental gunshot. Unlike the ever popular ‘twist’ of many American films, this never seems forced, but reminds us of the issues at hand and dares us to come away with an easily articul
ated answer.

DVD edition: The accompanying documentary is rather informative in discussing the production of this film, but when the director, actors and even producers get on the topic of social significance, they start overusing the word "leitmotif." Also, it’s worth seeing Kassovitz chalk his long takes up to laziness and keep a straight face.

What to watch for: The choice of wardrobe, which shows a healthy amount of anti-American sentiment. Nike and Everlast get covered up as attitudes become less violent, but ol’ Notre Dame College on the right…

Worst La Haine IMDB message board post: Who do you think shot his gun first at the end?

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