Mathieu Kassovitz’s modern social realist classic La Haine (1995) returns to the big screen in Singapore this Thursday as part of the 10th Perspectives Film Festival. Shot in black and white and playing at Alliance Francaise (naturally), there’s a surprising relevance to the film that still rings true even today.
France was rocked by a series of mysterious shootings and bombings back in 1995, creating an uneasy atmosphere of fear and trepidation within society, and in too many ways, the world we live in today feels like we’ve deteriorated once more into a far too similar situation, with a new wave of terrorism and threats of World War III looming on the horizon. When it premiered at Cannes, it was met with critical acclaim, perhaps because it felt almost as if those forgotten in the chaos were being given a voice, and a critical look at the collateral damage within the masses in a societal fallout.
As scary and dystopic as La Haine (literally translating to ‘hate’) feels, it’s set in a realistic, believable (monochrome) district of France – the zone d’urbanisation prioritaire, or poor housing projects turned ghettos in the Parisian suburbs. Filled with members from the lower class of society, our story centres on a group of three young friends as we follow a day in their lives. Our terrible three consists of boisterous east European jew Vinz (Vincent Cassel), with a blanket hate and condemnation for all policeman, cool Afro-French boxer and part time drug dealer Hubert (Hubert Kounde) and Arab Maghrebi Said (Said Taghmaoui). All three go through their days attempting to find meaning in their daily routine, doing drugs, chasing skirts and basically, indulging in the heady joys of youth.
There’s a casualness with Kassovitz’s masterful camerawork that lulls audiences completely into the world of these boys – plenty of medium shots with smooth, long takes allows us to feel like we’re actually there on the rooftop smoking a joint amongst the rebels, or listening in right there with them as they plot their next move. A devil may care attitude paints their lives as they skulk around and traipse from one dilapidated building to another, filled with an inexorable, restless energy that presents itself in the form of petty crime and confrontations. As time goes by and day turns to night, the world they inhabit becomes steadily more dangerous, as policemen wind down and ruffians wait at every corner, the social ills of the urban city out in full, far from the romanticism of Parisian life.
Amidst the violence and hoodlum attitude of the three though, there’s a line of real emotion that cuts through the core of the film, a sincerity and realism with the way these characters go about their lives that can’t help but make you feel for them as they go through each day, aimless and lost as they experience racism and police brutality first hand. Kassovitz’s image of a darker side of Paris home to the lower depths and prone to pointless violence is visually arresting, fervently exciting and ultimately, heartbreaking as it reaches its feverish finale. La Haine closes with the line ‘This is the story of a society falling apart’, and more than ever, we need vocal films like La Haine to express that which so often cannot be said (Kassovitz himself has teased the possibility of a sequel in the near future). Come watch this gorgeous rendition of a cinematic masterpiece and understand its importance as La Haine holds up a pitch black mirror to unveil the truth behind how society has helped shape the ‘rebels’ that surround us.
La Haine plays as part of the Perspectives Film Festival on 26th October at Alliance Francaise de Singapour at 8pm. Tickets available here