In 1993, a young Zairian man, Makome M’Bowole, was shot in the head at point blank range while being interrogated by the police. The Parisian police claimed that the incident was an act of “self defense” but also “accidental,” which I, along with many others, find hard to believe since Makome was handcuffed to a radiator. This brought about inspiration for young film maker Mathieu Kassovitz, who at just the age of 27 too the Cannes Film Festival by storm with his internationally praised film about social conflict, La Haine. With themes of hatred and ignorance, this film has very well stood the test of time and could be used as an example of social uproar at any point in history or the future.
After a friend of his is brutally beaten into a coma, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) vows to take revenge if he dies. His friends Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) think Vinz is all talk until he reveals that he is in possession of a police officer’s pistol that he stole the night before during a riot. The three friends spend the day together, starting in balieue where they all live but eventually they get to the heart of Paris, but one thing remains the same no matter where they go. The hatred that they carry and the hatred put towards them by the police spark numerous confrontations that could possibly end in violence, which only sparks Vinz’s fury even more.
When La Haine ended and I was left sitting on my couch trying to fully process what I just saw, I realized that this was something that was going to take time. I just couldn’t get a read on it right away, partly because of the intense and realistic approach to the subject matter. This movie has definite inspirations rooted in Italian Neorealism, but I think more so in French New Wave, and a sprinkling of American drama on top. The Neorealism can be seen in the use of predominantly unknown actors and the very on the fly style of film making. The New Wave influence can be seen in the wandering narrative where the three main characters just go about their day traveling through their environments. Finally, the American influence, especially in terms of Scorsese, can be seen in the scenes involving the streets and the inner violent tendencies that make up the characters. One scene in particular where Vinz talks to himself in the mirror is very reminiscent of Taxi Driver.
This film contains very controversial subject matter, but it was especially controversial when it was filmed and released in the early to mid ’90s. Between 1981 and 1993, fatal incidents caused by the police forces in France were at an all time high leading to all of the riots and hatred that you see in this movie. Kassovitz was inspired by this, but wanted everyone to know that this was also just a movie, especially when violence began happening that seemed to mirror that of the movie. It’s clear that Kassovitz wasn’t taking sides in La Haine, which is the best way to possibly tell this story which is about hate, through and through, on both sides. Interestingly enough, when Kassovitz won best director at the Cannes Film Festival, all of the police outside the theater turned their backs to the cast and crew when they exited. This is silly especially since they didn’t even see the movie, and also this movie is not anti-police.
The story of how the movie was made is just as interesting as the movie itself, as you can see by the inspiration for the movie. Kassovitz’s hard work really pays off with La Haine. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to, and all of the mostly unknown actors give it everything they got. Cassel, Koundé, and Taghmaoui are all excellent and have real chemistry together. The setting of the projects is also used to its full advantage, which makes sense since Kassovitz, the actors, and the crew all spent a few months living there to immerse themselves in the environment. All of this technical control and true talent combined with the passion everyone had for this movie really shines in every single frame.
La Haine is Kassovitz’s masterpiece, and with the work that he has been doing recently, I’m worried that he isn’t going to ever find that same passion for a project, as he certainly didn’t with Gothika and Babylon A.D. That doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that La Haine isn’t just a pretty movie that has a cool story. It’s actually a hard hitting, intense movie that leaves the audience with questions to answer about themselves, the film, and society in general. This movie is still talked about close to 20 years after it was first released, as it rightly should be. I loved it.