Reviews

La Haine

Michael Hayward

Mathieu Kassovitz was just twenty-eight years old when he made La Haine (Criterion DVD), a 1995 film released in black and white and set in les banlieues, the racially volatile suburbs that surround Paris like an explosive vest. The protagonists of La Haine are Vinz, a Jewish thug-in-training, Hubert, a black African, and Saïd, an Arab, three friends who idle away their lives like thousands of other disaffected immigrant youths in modern France, unemployed and unemployable, hanging out in the streets and on the rooftops of the high-rise housing projects—les cités—where violence is always just a hair-trigger away. In the aftermath of a violent encounter between the police and banlieue residents, one of their friends lies on the brink of death after being beaten while in custody. A police revolver has gone missing in the chaos, and its discovery by Vinz—the camera lingers on the gun, which is lit as if it were a holy object—sets in motion a chain of events that plays out inexorably over the next twenty-four hours. Vinz vows to take revenge on les flics should the injured friend die, while Hubert points out that hate (la haine) simply breeds more hate. La Haine is filled with references to American culture (at one point Vinz re-enacts a scene from Scorcese’s Taxi Driver in his bathroom mirror, as if that film offered the perfect expression of his own rage). It was a great success in France, winning the César Award for best picture and, for Kassovitz, the best director prize at Cannes. The issues addressed in La Haine—immigration, racism, unemployment, crimes of violence—continue to divide France, and were the subjects of intense debate during the country’s most recent presidential election.

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