La Haine (Hate) [DVD]
Director : Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenplay : Mathieu Kassovitz
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Vincent Cassel (Vinz), Hubert Koundé (Hubert), Saïd Taghmaoui (Saïd), Abdel Ahmed Ghili (Abdel), Solo (Santo), Joseph Momo (Ordinary Guy), Héloïse Rauth (Sarah), Rywka Wajsbrot (Vinz's Grandmother), Olga Abrego (Vinz's Aunt), Laurent Labasse (Cook)
La haine (Hate), Mathieu Kassovitz's searing portrait of alienated youth living in the housing projects on the outskirts of Paris, is one of those rare films that is simultaneously specific and universal. In its portrayal of a very particular time and place, the film seethes with texture and details, and by the end of its brisk and economic 97 minutes, which culminates in what can only be called a truly shocking final moment, you feel that you have been where the characters have been, breathed their air, and felt their pulse. At the same time, though, within those details are hard universal truths about the nature of anger, racism, poverty, and despondency.
Kassovitz, who began in film as an actor before turning to writing and directing, builds his episodic narrative around a trio of friends in their early 20s living in the banlieue districts outside of Paris. Kassovitz grew up in similar housing projects, so he understands the vibe of the location--the rhythms and textures of the lived experience, which is brought to life by his uniformly excellent cast, all of whom were virtual unknowns at the time. Kassovitz had already made the comedy Métisse (aka Café au lait, 1993), which also explored racial and ethnic divides in contemporary France, so La haine represents an extension and deepening (if not significant darkening) of his previous themes.
He opens the film with a credit sequence featuring actual video footage of various riots in Paris, which give the film a stark immediacy that never lets up, even when Kassovitz moves into the stylized black-and-white cinematography that dominates the film's overall style. In this regard, La haine is one of best examples of a highly stylized film whose style--which includes mixing static long takes with rapid tracking shots, extreme close-ups, and distortion of the visual planes--never swallows its emotion and meaning. Each shot, each angle, each movement underscores something more than its own visual prowess; you never feel that Kassovitz is showing off, and it really isn't until a second viewing of the film, when you can distance yourself from the emotions, that you even recognize how stylized it is. It's a film of broken glass: full of jagged beauty and sharp edges.
In neorealist fashion, Kassovitz names his characters after the actors who portray them: Vincent Cassel, who has gone on to a varied and distinguished international career in French films such as Gaspar Noe's provocative Irréversible (2002) and Hollywood productions like Ocean's Twelve (2004), is Vinz, a Jewish hothead who feels that his life and reputation can be solidified with a found gun; Hubert Koundé is Hubert, a boxer of African descent who represents the group's moral voice; and Saïd Taghmaoui is Saïd, who is of Arab descent and is the most jovial and easygoing of the group. Having each of the characters represent one of the frequently clashing ethnic groups that make up modern French identity was a gamble, as it could have made the film play too much like an overly fabricated allegory. However, because Kassovitz's screenplay stays true to each character and the performances are so strong, each of them emerges as a flesh-and-blood human being, rather than a cardboard ethnic archetype. By showing these social outcasts from different ethnic background cohering into a single identity, Kassovitz simultaneously shows that racism is not the cause of all social ills, nor is its solution a cure-all salve. The “hate” of the film's title draws from a much deeper well than its surface symptoms.
The narrative in La haine is built less around traditional plot points than it is the ebb and flow of life itself. The story moves forward in fits and spurts, with the characters going through their daily routines, much of which involves conflict of various kinds--often with police officers, both sympathetic and antagonistic, but also their neighbors, friends, and rival hoods. Aggression and projection of strength are mandatory for survival, even amongst friends.
The focus of the film is on relationships, but Kassovitz also slides in a crucial existential dimension by showing in several instances how choices have repercussions, and not always the ones that are most expected. The first time we see Vinz, he is looking in his bathroom mirror and repeating Robert De Niro's “You talkin' to me?” monologue from Taxi Driver (1976), but with even more self-conscious anger and aggression. At this point, we immediately recognize a ticking bomb, and once he gets his hands on a gun, we know that the fuse has been lit. Yet, Kassovitz doesn't go for the easy plot development, and instead takes us on a circuitous journey that ends in violence that is both boldly surprising, and yet somehow preordained. It is in the space between what we expect and what shocks that La haine derives its profound cinematic power.
|La Haine Criterion Collection Director-Approved Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||April 17, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion has produced for us another outstanding high-definition transfer for La haine. Taken from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and digitally restored, the image on this disc is very nearly flawless. The stark black-and-white cinematography, which evokes both old documentaries and films noir, is strikingly represented, with excellent shadow detail and strong contrast. The soundtrack, which was mastered at 24-bit from the original stems and digitally restored, has been effectively mixed into an enveloping Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track.|
|Matching the strength of the audio/visual presentation of the film, Criterion has also put together an outstanding set of supplements that place the film in its socio-historical context and also show how it continues to affect people more than a decade after it was first released. |
You might start with Jodie Foster's 15-minute video introduction. Foster was instrumental in bringing the film to the United States, and her passion for Kassovitz's work is both illuminating and infectious. After watching the film, there is much to be learned by listening to Kassovitz's excellent screen-specific audio commentary. Speaking in perfect English, he discusses his reasons for making the film and how he went about creating it.
Moving over to the second disc, we have Ten Years of La haine, a feature-length retrospective documentary that features interviews with numerous members of the cast and crew, including Kassovitz, stars Vincent Cassel and Hubert Kounde, and producers Christophe Rossignon and Alan Rocca. There is also an excellent 34-minute video featurette on the film's banlieue setting. Titled Social Dynamite, it includes interviews with sociologists Sophie Body-Gendrot, Jeffrey Fagan, and William Kornblum and is essential viewing for those not familiar with French culture and the role of the banlieues in French class stratification. Other supplements on the second disc include behind-the-scenes footage shot during the film's production, deleted and extended scenes with new video afterwords by Kassovitz, a stills gallery of behind-the-scenes photos, and theatrical trailers. Overall, this is the kind of excellent and thorough special edition treatment that a film of such importance deserves.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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