La Haine (Hate)

France (1995) Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz

In a run down multi-ethnic estate in the suburbs of Paris, a young man, Abdel Ichaha, lies in a coma after being savagely beaten by police, leading to public outcry which resulted in a violent riot. During the riot a policeman lost his .44 Magnum revolver which was later found by disenchanted local wannabe gangster Vinz (Vincent Cassel), who vows to use the gun to kill a policeman if Abdel should die.

Inspired by the real events of 1993 where a Zairian man was shot while in police custody, Mathieu Kassovitz’s film has become something of a cult classic, with its bleak nihilistic themes depicted in a near documentary style and shot in black and white. A fair comparison would be the early works of British filmmaker Shane Meadows, following the same semi-improvised Cinéma vérité approach, only it’s in French. In fact, the dingy estate the film is shot on with graffiti covered walls, aimlessly loitering teens and unflattering vistas could have been any similar estate in the UK.

Not so much a plot as a series of events, the film depicts a consecutive nineteen hour stint in the lives of Vinz and his two closest friends Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) and boxer Hubert (Hubert Koundé), both of whom share the same disillusionment as Vinz – Hubert more so since his gym was burned down during the riots and his intolerance of the violence that surrounds his life. He wants to break away from the neighbourhood but doesn’t know how, finding himself embracing the anti-social behaviour of his friends by way of escape. Said is another wannabe big shot who is somewhere between Vinz and Hubert in terms of personality and demeanour.

Vinz believes getting vengeance for Abdel, should he die, will earn him the respect of his peers while his friends remain somewhat unconvinced. We follow the directionless trio as they travel from their crummy estate to the city of Paris with a slight diversion to the police station after Said’s mouth gets him into trouble. As they discover, Paris isn’t all its cracked up to be and the lads find that Parisian inhabitants and their police can be just as antagonising towards them as the ones back home. They get separated after buying some drugs with Said and Hubert suffering at the hands of a couple of sadistic plain clothes policemen while Vinz floats about the city with just his gun for company. They eventually meet up again but miss the last train home, forced to spend the night on the streets where they end up on the wrong side of a gang of skinheads.

Amazing as it sounds, our troublesome threesome do make some important discoveries about themselves as across this eventful time span, having their eyes opened to how violence isn’t always the solution to life’s problems, although it would appear this is the world they are destined to remain a part of. Aside from Hubert’s insistence to a volatile Vinz that “hatred breeds hatred” Kassovitz – who also plays the part of a violent skinhead in the film – is careful not to play preacher here nor does he pretend to offer any solutions or answers to the problems explored. His objective account of the events add to the stark realism of the issues at hand and even after seventeen years it still feels vital and relevant as ever – especially here in the UK where we experienced a similar riot situation in 2011 following the death of a young man by police.

Vincent Cassel as always was an inspired choice for Vinz and despite being almost thirty at the time, he easily passes for a cocky twenty year-old in this impressive turn. His two co-stars Saïd Taghmaoui and Hubert Koundé were closer to their characters’ ages and are equally convincing and suited to their roles, delivering equally nuanced and naturalistic performances, forming a credible trio with Cassel. Keen eyed viewers will noticed a slew of famous faces in smaller cameo roles including Karin Viard, Benoît Magimel and Vincent Lindon, fitting in neatly without overshadowing the less well known main cast.

La Haine is a bold and confrontational piece of film making that works because of the chances it takes, resonating deeply with any audience due to the global concern of the themes. Its hard hitting approach will stay with the viewer long after the end credits roll and the film’s status as one of the more significant world cinema outings of the last twenty years is unquestionably justified.