What it is • Three young friends - an Arab, a Jew, and an African (no this isn't a bar joke) are French, yet they are outsiders in their own country. They live on the edge: the edge of Paris (in France, the suburbs - "la banlieu" - are the equivalent of American inner cities), the edge of society, the edge of violence, the edge of their own sanity. Last night there was a massive riot, tonight there will probably be another, and meanwhile today they have a gun, stolen from a cop. Will they use it? The film follows them as they fight, dance, get high, hang out, visit the city, get beaten up by cops, and visit a friend, himself a victim of police brutality. By day's end, they're ready to explode... La Haine itself exploded on the scene in the mid-90s, and a decade later it was more relevant than ever; during the 2005 riots, writer/director Mathieu Kassovitz engaged in a public debate with future President Nicolas Sarkozy over the justification for the rioters' rage.
Why I like it •
This movie is just cool as shit - its opening, a spoken intro followed by an exploding Molotov cocktail and convincing-looking video footage scored to Bob Marley's "Burnin' and a Lootin' Tonight," is obviously inspired by Mean Streets and about as effective in putting its foot down and proclaiming, "Here's a fucking movie." La Haine has style to burn, mixing and matching a simmering sense of frustration and impatience (wide shots, long takes, extended silences, an offbeat monologue by an aging victim of the gulag) with an explosive kinetic energy (a camera floating out a ghetto window, a propulsive hip-hop soundtrack mixing and matching American beats with French lyrics, jacked-up cutting and a constantly moving frame). Some of the technical tricks must be seen to be believed, but they're never merely flashy for their own sake. The point is to communicate the characters' excitement and anger, and while La Haine draws inspiration from Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, its primary source of power is the trio of Said Taghmaoui, Hubert Kounde, and especially Vincent Cassell.
How you can see it • La Haine is a part of the Criterion Collection, and is available on DVD from Netflix. A clip from the film kicks off "Living in the Nineties", Chapter 29 in my video series.
What do you think? • Does La Haine appropriately match its joyous energy with its serious content? Was it style over substance? Did you feel the ending conveyed an appropriate and effective message? Did you like the characters? What was your favorite scene - the visit to Snoopy (Asterisk in the original French, but the translators must not have thought we'd get the joke), the move in to the mirror, the breakdancing broken up by invading cops, the harrowing police torture sequence, the liberating "floating camera" sequence, the visit to the prickly, pretentious gallery in which the intellectual curator kicks the boys out and then sighs, "Ah, l'ennui de la banlieue..." ("the malaise of the ghetto," but it sounds better in French)?