La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995)

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La Haine is clearly an important precursor to films like American History X and French Blood (and probably many others).

The stark black and white works really well to give the film that gritty feel of urban decay and desolation, and the cinematography is pretty damn impressive with all the circling tracking shots to show both the front and back of the characters (as well as sometimes 180* cuts to the other side of them). It gives a sense that at any moment something could happen and illustrates that these men (boys?) have to constantly watch their back, as they’re constantly in an agitated, anxious state, with the presence of the gun being this seeming answer or relief from that agitation/anxiety. The sudden whip pans and whip zooms are quite affecting and stylistically interesting, especially as they contrast moments of routine-like violence.

The presence of the gun aptly and thematically acts as a motivation for much of the film’s characterizations and narrative developments. The three characters which are focused upon are connected by their shared plight of poverty, living in the projects, searching for respect, etc. but they each deal with the threat of police and the threat of others very differently. Their unique personalities may be defined by how they respond to the presence of the gun. Each obviously spewing much hatred for others, their bred hatred is quite certainly the product of both environmental factors and the need to put on airs or bravado in front of one another.

While Vinz’ pain and possession of the gun causes him to act like more of a badass out of a mistaken sense of power which perhaps he has never before felt, we can see through and through that his convictions arise from a source of well intentioned guardianship over his self and friends. He doesn’t show it outright but actions such as following his buddies on multiple occasions after they leave him behind with him saying “I don’t need you” illustrate this. Sayid uses comedy to perhaps hide from the real drama and seriousness of circumstances around him. He is not only the jokester but he is a joke in himself, being told of by Nordeen, by the girls, etc.. He takes false pride in holding the piece and talking about the pigs, but most of what he says is superficial, and he’s really probably the most insecure and afraid of the three. Hubert shows reason and an unbridled realism. He wants out and he has perspective about how hate breeds hate, how the cops respond to the rioters hatred and vice versa, and that not all cops are bad. Yet he is still a rather hateful person, a racist perhaps, and his speech that a skinhead doesn’t deserve to live is one example of how we know that his restraint could be broken.

When Sayid and Hubert are tortured by those corrupt-as-fuck cops, one can see Hubert’s repressed violent side come out–a violent side which was perhaps more active as a troubled young thief and which was conditioned during his time in lock-up. This scene motivates the sheer amount of tension we feel when Hubert begins to walk towards the cop car holding the gun in his hand. Out to save his friends and now holding that symbol of power, we know that Hubert might be willing to do what Vinz could not: he could kill. He could especially kill the cop that tortured him. The ambiguity of the final shot paired with the close up of Sayid’s clenched eyes is perfectly exemplary of the reciprocal nature of this hate and violence. Like we saw Hubert try before this, the idea of erasing the present and somehow making the hate and violence in front of you disappear is bound in the lives of all these so called ‘hoodlums’. But such magic doesn’t exist, and a system can’t change from 24 hours of constructed hatred.

83/100 – Great.

4 Stars

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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