(Originally written for Inside Pulse Movies)
La haine, which translates to “hate” in English, is a perfect title for Mathieu Kassovitz’s film, which revolves entirely around the hatred that brews between the teenagers in France’s projects, and the corrupt police officers that attempt to control them. Everything that happens in the first two acts leads to the brutal reality of the film’s final, starkly beautiful moment, and Kassovitz’s film is just as important today as it was when it released in 1995.
La haine follows three different teenagers from the projects over the span of twenty-four hours. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé), and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) – Jewish, African, and Arabic, respectively – have spent their whole lives in these French projects, and they’ve come to hate the racist police force. During a riot one night, a police officer loses his gun, which raises the tension in the projects. To Vinz’s excitement, he finds the gun, and he sees it as a way to demand respect from the people around him. He then vows to kill a cop if one of his hospitalized friends, Abdel, dies from the wounds he received while in police custody.
What’s most fascinating about Kassovitz’s approach to La haine is how realistic and immediate the entire film feels. The script feels like it must’ve been improvised, but the plethora of special features available on the Blu-ray tells us otherwise. Kassovitz’s script is natural as can be, and though I’ll hopefully never know firsthand what life in the projects is like, it feels genuine to the ghetto.
Delivering these lines with ease are the three leads, all of whom have gone on to long and prosperous acting careers since La haine’s release in 1995. Vincent Cassel is mesmerizing as Vinz. Though Vinz talks a big game, he proves over and over again that he is a good kid who has been given a bad situation to deal with. He has multiple chances to become something he isn’t, but stays true to himself, and his friends. Hubert is the brains – the patience – of the group. Hubert Koundé plays this young role with a maturity not normally seen among characters this age. Hubert is doing everything he can to rise above the projects, but the racism and hatred present in the film tell us that he never will. Saïd Taghmaoui spent his time as a comedian, and his comic timing is perfect as the group’s jokester and child-at-heart. These three young men represent more than just themselves, however. They are every teenager living in the projects. La haine isn’t the story of just three friends, but an entire community that is being destroyed by corrupt government officials.
The one element of La haine that will never leave my mind is how perfect Kassovitz is able to frame his scenes. He often uses shots with three or more actors, and he insists on keeping a strong depth of field so that everything in the shot remains in focus. Even if it’s just four guys shooting the breeze on cement pillars, Kassovitz’s cinematography is striking and unforgettable. He uses the harsh reality of the projects as his background for most the film, and it plays in wonderful contrast to the beautiful Paris skyline that appears later in the movie. Kassovitz is clearly unafraid to take chances with his camera placement, and the way he plays with focus is a joy to watch.
La haine seems to lose its way about three-quarters of the way through the film. When the trio arrives in Paris, on the hunt for some cash that is owed to Saïd, the slow burn that Kassovitz has created starts to sputter out. Though watching these three actors work together, and seeing what interesting frame Kassovitz will create with each passing shot is engaging, the story loses a bit of its shine. That said, the final climactic moments of the film are perfect, and will put the viewer right back on the edge of his or her seat, wishing the film would continue.
Kassovitz doesn’t hide the politics of La haine, which helps make this film important even today. There is a nice contrast between the timelessness of the black and white cinematography and the musical score that is undeniably from the 1990s. These two elements mesh perfectly to create an experience that is unlike any other: it’s visceral, immediate, brooding, and beautiful. La haine is a masterpiece that virtually everyone should check out.
I’ve yet to watch a film from the Criterion Collection that didn’t present a stunning picture, and La haine follows suit. The black and white photography is crisp and the picture is sharp on this Blu-ray release. Criterion has restored La haine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive using a Spirit Datacine for the high definition transfer. There is virtually no dirt, scratches, debris, or any other imperfections on this release. The original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 has been left in tact, and the movie looks immaculate.
According to the included booklet, the 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered from the original stems. La Haineis presented in French with English subtitles. The 5.1 surround option has dogs barking, gunshots swirling, and other various noises happening all around the viewer. The musical choices by Kassovitz shine through with crystal clarity, and the audio, on a whole, is just as good as the video.
This La Haine Blu-ray is loaded to the gills with high quality special features:
Audio Commentary by Director Mathieu Kassovitz: This was recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2006, and Kassovitz is a director worth listening to. He isn’t afraid to say how he feels, which makes the commentary constantly entertaining. Kassovitz is a political man, and that vibe plays out through the feature. He also speaks a lot about the different influences on his films, and his incredible admiration for Martin Scorsese. Kassovitz’s influences lie with American directors like Scorsese and Spielberg more so than popular French directors, so his viewpoint is always interesting to hear. This is a great commentary track from Kassovitz.
Jodie Foster Introduction (14:52): This is an introduction by actress and filmmaker Jodie Foster that was filmed in 2006. Her passion for the film exudes out in every minute of this essential interview. Foster has a great respect for the movie that can’t help but make the viewer want to go back and watch it again. She sets it up against the socio-political background from which it was crafted, which makes La haine even more awe-inspiring.
Ten Years of “La Haine (1:23:30): This feature length documentary (shot in black and white, with English subtitles) tells the complete story of La Haine, from the shooting that inspired the screenplay, to its successful run at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. This is an essential part of this Criterion release. StudioCanal has put together a wonderfully comprehensive look at La Haine. This includes interviews with the actors, cinematographer, producer, and director, and all are refreshingly candid. It’s fascinating to see what the cast and crew had to do in order to film in peace in an actual housing project. Ten Years of “La Haine” is one of the most complete and enlightening special features I’ve seen on a Blu-ray release this year.
Social Dynamite (34:02): Three sociologists discuss the setting of La Haine and the state of public housing in France in America. This is the first feature to offer an American viewpoint on the film, which is neat. A lot of time is spent talking about public housing, and the feature gets a little dry because of it. Still, this is a worthwhile special feature that takes an analytical approach to the psychology of La Haine.
Preparing for the Shoot (5:57): Director Kassovitz said the only way to make a film in the projects is not to get the council’s permission, but to get the tenants permission, which lead some of the crew and the cast to spend two months living in the projects prior to filming. There is nothing revelatory here, but it is amusing to see the guys in color, and out of their roles, just having some fun with each other.
The Making of a Scene (6:38): This is about as typical as special features get: a behind-the-scenes peak at the filming of a scene. The director and actors are interviewed, and the entire scene is spelled out for the viewer with storyboards and all.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:00): This contains two deleted scenes and two extended scenes. The most important and interesting aspect of this additional material is that it is the only way to see how the film was originally shot: in color. The film itself was printed in black and white after the fact, so these remain the only colorized items of the film. Each of the four scenes contain an afterword by director Mathieu Kassovitz, where he explains why things were cut down or deleted.
Stills Gallery: Here are fifteen still photos from the shoot. Each one has a caption explaining what it is.
Essay Booklet: The black and white booklet (staying true to the film’s color scheme) contains pictures from the set, as well as multiple essays. “La Haine and After: Arts, Politics, and the Banlieue” by film professor Ginette Vincendeau talks about the origins of the script, life in the projects, and France since La haine’s release. Vincendeau wrote a book about La Haine in 2005, making him one of the authorities on the film. A much shorter essay, entitled “Costa-Garvis on La haine”, is taken from the program book of the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival written by director Costa-Garvis. It’s fascinating to read because he talks about how La Haine and Kassovitz essentially predicted the future of France that started in 2005 with a youth uprising. This essay booklet is not the thickest in the Criterion Collection, but it gives a wonderful insight into the effect that La haine has had on the world.
Trailer 1 (0:29)
Trailer 2 (0:37)
Another strong point of the Criterion Collection is their wonderful cover art. This is merely an aesthetic thing, but I am proud to have my Criterion cases displayed where everyone can see them because they are beautiful. La haine‘s cover art emphasizes how mundane these boys lives are, and also stresses the fact that this is about a generation of people, not merely these three young men. It is black and white, like the film itself, and is as striking as it is relevant.
La Haine feels like a mix between Scorsese’s incredible vision and Spike Lee’s knack for relevance, which should get any film enthusiast interested. The movie – though not perfect – is one of the more important films to come out of the 1990s, predicting the future violence that France saw beginning in 2005. The high definition transfer from the Criterion Collection is as good as anyone could hope for, and the large load of special features is just the cherry on top of a big, delicious sundae. This Blu-ray comes highly recommended.
This Blu-ray was released by The Criterion Collection on May 8, 2012. La haine (1995) was written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, with a runtime of 97 minutes. It is not rated.