Well, I have not seen any of the new films released for home video today. Instead, I will do something a bit different. Criterion is a company that releases some of the best films of all time in pristine quality and with scholarly, in depth features (often including essays and statements by famous film makers or writers. My copy of Solaris features a piece written by Kurosawa for instance). They are very selective about what films they will release under their label and, although their films are usually very pricey, they are always worth getting because of how much care is taken with each and every film. New covers are made, special main menus, intricate lay outs, and so much more.
If I end up with this problem again, I will use that day to review a Criterion film released that day because, hey, I can’t be cynical and a jackass all of the time, right?
With that being said, Criterion released one of the best films of the 90’s today, and that film is none other than Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine.
La Haine translates to “the hatred” in English, but it is known as its original, French title to most people simply because it sounds more poetic that way. That’s exactly what La Haine is; an artistic, painted depiction of angst and anger with such poise and delicacy. This film records a full twenty four hours after a large riot in a French ghetto, where three young men are struggling to deal with the political injustices. Vinz (Vincent Cassell) is a young Jew who piles up his rage and seeks to have his revenge as he mimics Travis Bickle in the mirror and walks around with a chip on his shoulder. Hubert (Hubert Koundé) is an African boxer whose training facility has been burned down during the riots, and is trying to remain calm and collected while being on the brink of snapping. Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) is an Arab who tries to keep control of the other two men while trying to set his own trails. Already, without starting the film, we have a set look at a response to society through their hobbies alone. Hubert is a boxer; a man who fights whoever threatens him and that’s it. Vinz is a dancer, and an individual who seeks to speak through actions and to be noticed.
The story isn’t full of metaphors because it’s just following this gang of three around just like we are. The words are not written on a sheet of paper, but are painted around in their environment, including a fascinating part where a disc jockey combines KRS-One’s “Sound of da Police” with Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien”. This music coasts through the ghettos on a booming speaker. This is the only time in the film where the modernity of the current time and place is united with the stance France once had as a proud country. However, this film does not criticize its home country of France, but rather the order of the world of which France happens to be a part of. The gang visit Paris, a token, post card city, and are treated like dogs. The police officers there become either a joke or a malicious force full of unjustifiable hatred. That’s where things get tricky; it is never clear who is truly the most dominant force in the film. Anybody could be. There isn’t a set villain or a clear hero. Everyone is just as bad as each other, and everyone is just as much of a threat as each other. Even characters you barely know can be threatening in this film.
The plot and story seems as natural and unforced as a Scorsese film, as the acting by the three leads is top notch material. There’s a reason why these characters share the same names of their respective actors. Cassell is clearly a young punk acting over the top, but he also has a short temper, so you are never sure when his words are of truth or of false strength. Koundé is a soft spoken wanderer whose emotional reactions tell such a story, as he hides amongst the backdrop and often cannot hide how he feels. Taghmaoui is unsure of everything he does in the entire movie. If others are yelling, he will look around and join in. You can tell that he wants to be a part of something but is unsure how, and when he is a part of something he is unsure if he even wants to be. The three actors played their parts of these three kids wanting to make a stance when they really don’t know how to approach this situation, and they do so with such pristine. What really sets this film apart from most politically charged films, however, is the cinematography and artistic direction, of which surpasses anything a close minded individual could come up with (largely contrasting many of the ignorant youth in the film). The film starts off with an incredible shot of the world being set ablaze by a molotov cocktail. Is there really a better way to start a film like this? Once you add the riot itself underneath the arrogantly placed credits tags whilst playing a song by The Wailers, it becomes a complete package.
Even the camera shots and lighting command authority, as if they were a part of this whole thing. You will have obnoxious zooming during monologues or moments of fear, slow pacing around characters as if the cameraman was a police officer, and the shadows of the previous riot looming amongst the characters, reminding us that cause will always have effect. I can’t begin to describe all of the interesting tricks and shots because there are just so many. The use of black and white along with the exaggerated shots full of such calamity and looming urban sprawl makes La Haine a living campaign poster, with comments about the world and the policing system marked on walls and signs by the frantic youth wanting to be heard. La Haine is a film that wanted to be heard, and it made damn sure it was. Its style has influenced many films since, including Trainspotting (another top tier film of that era) and more. Vincent Cassell broke into the A listed world of acting because of this film (rightfully so). However, just because it’s made it’s mark in the film world, it doesn’t mean it’s not relevant anymore. In fact, this film feels anything but dated, which, as is said in the film, is “so far, so good”.