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La Haine (1995) November 3, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2003

Even before Iraq widened the rift between Europe and USA, most of European intellectuals had very low opinion of world’s sole superpower. That view, which is now became mainstream among common Europeans, could be best summed up in stereotyping USA as country plagued by violence, crime, drugs, racism and riots – unlike refined, civic-minded and enlightened Europe whose welfare- state policies and “political correctness” made sure that such ills never affect their citizens. This is the reason why LA HAINE, 1995 French drama directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, looks incredibly ironic today, since it depicts all those “American” forms of social pathology in the very heart of “enlightened” and “refined” Europe.

The plot of LA HAINE is set in Parisian suburbs. Unlike in most American cities, Paris, inner sections are populated by upper and middle classes, and suburbs are left to, mostly immigrant, underclass. In one of those suburbs Arab teenager was beaten into coma during police interrogation. That was enough for disaffected youth to start massive riot and wreck the neighbourhood. Soon after the riots the story begins to follow three local teenagers and best friends – Arab small-time dealer Said (played by Said Taghmaoui), black boxer Hubert (played by Hubert Kounde) and small-time Jewish thief Vinz (played by Vincent Cassell). Three youths – unemployed, out of school and with little hope or prospects, spend next 24 hours doing what most youths in their situation would do – hang out and wander around the neighbourhood, getting into all kinds of trouble with police and skinheads. But the biggest trouble is Vinz, who had taken a gun, lost by a policeman during the riot; he hates police and swears that he would kill one policeman in revenge if comatose Arab boy dies.

Shot in black-and-white, LA HAINE shows the other, darker side of modern Europe with more passion than black American directors ever showed in their grim 1990s depictions of inner city reality. Just like inner-city neighbourhoods of America, Parisian suburbs are infested with violence, crime, drugs, graffiti, gangs and the police, acting more like an occupying army than force of order, only fuels the vicious cycle of violence among disaffected youths. To make things even worse for European cultural snobs, those disaffected youths have eagerly embraced American cultural imperialism – they listen to rap, use words like “homeboys” in their vocabulary and try to emulate tough guys from Hollywood movies. Unlike people in American inner city ghettos, protagonists of LA HAINE are able to overcome ethnic and racial differences – in the world of Parisian suburbs Arabs and Jews could live together, but the less visible social divisions are nevertheless in full effect. Small trip to posh section of Paris and encounters with their well-to-do countrymen would illustrate how little understanding exists between various segments of French society and that such lack of understanding would inevitably lead to hatred and violent conflict.

This conflict, which looms in the background just like the violent finale of the film, is telegraphed at the very beginning with the documentary footage of Parisian suburbs riots. Kassovitz (who appears in the film in the small role of skinhead) seems very concerned for the future of his country, since the reality of suburbs is at complete odds of official nationalist credo that tries to sweep all ethnic, racial and social tensions under the carpet. Unfortunately, his message was at times blurred with some elements that seem alien to LA HAINE; small anecdote about Siberian trains is one of such example. But Kassovitz, who had earned Best Director prize at Cannes Film Festival for this film, should nevertheless commended for the film which proved to be prophetic. In the film he told of France being just like a man falling from Eiffel Tower and constantly telling himself “So far, so good”. In last few years France has seen the rise of anti-Semitic attacks and far right candidates like Le Pen making surprisingly good results at the polls. Perhaps France didn’t hit the pavement, but all those snobs who like to look down on USA should start looking at their own yard.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

Review written on September 8th 2003



1. miles.lambie - January 25, 2009

The small story about the train in Siberia is key – and we are challenged by the characters when they ask ‘What was he talking about?’ It was about assimilation to society – one man standing apart from all the others I think.

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