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La Haine

Review Written by: Joe Earp
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: A+/A+/A-

Directed by: Mathieu Kassovitz
Written by: Mathieu Kassovitz
Produced by: Christophe Rossignon
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde, Said Taghmaoui, Adbel Ahmed Ghili
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it!

We are out of control. We're blind to the world, our foot on the accelerator, our finger on the trigger. One of us is black. One of us is Arabic. And one of us is Caucasian. We've found a pistol a police officer dropped in our estate. And we've made a promise. If our hospitalized friend slips out of his coma and dies, we will shoot a cop. To even the score. To restore the balance. We are the central protagonists of the shocking, amazing and utterly unforgettable Hate.

Mathieu Kassovitz rightfully won Best Director at the Cannes Film festival for his extraordinary debut Hate. The film, nominated for the Palme D'Or, received attention from critics around the world, who called it both grotesque and insightful. A condemnation of the violence, racism and police brutality that is tearing France apart, the film's themes are still as relevant today as they were when the film was made in 1995.

A short, sharp and shocking piece, Hate is one of those films you simply can't forget. Shot in grainy, dirty black and white, the movie centres around the three friends described above, who have vowed to shoot a policeman if their buddy slips out of the coma that he fell into after being beaten up by a policeman. As simple as it sounds, writer/director Kassovitz fills his screenplay with dark insights into suffering and pain and manages to consistently surprise and inspire the audience at every turn. However, the film is very ambivalent in its message, luckily enough. Kassovitz never preaches. Instead the audience is left to make their own decisions about the actions the characters undertake. The very fact for example, that we never meet the boy who has slipped in the coma, nor do we see him interacting with the movie's central three protagonists, means we can never judge to what extent the boys are driven by hate or by love. Did they really respect their friend and need to seek justice for his death? Or are they simply angry, violent young men that desperately need an excuse to justify their own actions?

From the film's very first dedication which disturbingly announces that 'this film is for all of those that died during its production', Kassovitz immediately announces his political standpoint. He clearly sees great malcontent in his country, a monumental flaw in its essential workings, both politically and socially. And yet Kassovitz is too good of a writer to turn his story into a caricature driven mess. Although he has been compared to Spike Lee, Kassovitz never falls prey to the stereotypes that ruin the infamous African American director's work for many. Not all police officers the three young men meet are vicious caricatures. Similarly, not all of their friends are entirely trustworthy or respectable. One character in particular, Asterix, is supposed to be an ally of the central trio. Nevertheless he snorts coke non-stop, prancing around his room with a loaded gun in his hand. In it's a funny spectacle, undeniably, but it's nevertheless shocking and memorable. Kassovitz seems to suggest that it's foolish to ever entirely support one class or group of people while condemning the other.

The film is set in the tenenement block of a normal French city. The cinematographer, Pierre Aim, brilliantly paints a picture of a society teetering on the edge of collapse. The landscape is a dark and depressing one. Harsh, artificial light fills the screen, occasionally even blinding the audience in its intensity. Shadows and darkness smother the characters as they are left to wallow in their dark landscape. This is not the France Francois Truffaut presented us with in films like The 400 Blows. No, this is the France as Kassovitz sees it, as filled with barbarity and violence.

The characters in the film are both entertaining and insightful. Their constant jibes and insults are genuinely funny, as they attack both each other and those around them. Vinz (Vincent Cassel) in particular, the Caucasian member of the trio, is a violent abusive young man who also has the propensity to be scathingly humorous. It is he who decides first to shoot the policeman, should the need arise and it is he who seems more angry and confused than his other two friends. He wants to commit an act of violence more than anything else in the world. Scenes in which the young man imitates Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, talking and shouting at himself in the mirror, build up a character portrait of a young immature man, who has the violent mind of a much older psychopath.

The life of these three young boys is depicted wonderfully. Their world is one of violence and mistrust and yet also marked by long stretches of boredom. Darkly comic scenes in which the trio talk about movie stars, TV shows and other such frivolities, also hide a much deeper emotion. These young men lead such empty lives that really they have nothing to discuss. The way in which they resort to violence and drugs is unsurprising, especially considering the type of life they lead.

The film is interspersed with short shots of a clock ticking down slowly, minutes whiling away before our very eyes. This is the timer of the three boy's destiny. We do not know what will await them when the time runs out. We do not know what lies after the ticking clock. But we do know it will not be pretty. Kassovitz seems to imply that violence, maybe even death, is inevitable in a society filled with hate and fear. How can we run from our own destiny? Is it possible to escape the violence that we see everywhere in this world? This idea of a destiny mapped out for us in advance is reinforced by the short scene in which Vinz, at a movie cinema, points his fingers at the screen in the shape of the gun, blowing his cheeks out and making a quiet gunshot sound. But as all of this is happening a small, na´ve little child in the corner of the frame is busy watching. And just as Vinz has finished his little demonstration, the boy raises his own fingers at the screen, imitating the violent, make believe action of the angry young Frenchman. Kassovitz's message is clear. All of this violence, all of this hate, will not end quickly. Abuse will go on and on, a baton passed from one generation to the next. It is inevitable that children will learn the dark ways of their fathers. Until what? Kasovitz refuses to tell us. Whether he has the answers or not, the film does everything but satisfy its audience. The bleak ending leaves us wondering whether we can ever change our own ways. The film seems to imply that maybe we can alter who we are, but that society will never alter for us. This message however is only one interpretation that can be drawn from the highly ambivalent, highly upsetting ending.

The direction is truly brilliant. Filled with darkly comic moments, at times it's hard to see whether Kassovitz is joking or being deadly serious. Moments of pure pathos are contrasted with darker scenes of violence, hate and disgust. For example an early section of the film, depicts the three friends eating hotdogs on the roof of an abandoned building. For a while, the trio discuss minor things: the guns used in the Lethal Weapon films for example. For just a minute Kassovitz lulls us into a false sense of security with his humorous dialogue and silly anecdotes. But suddenly the police burst onto the rooftop, and the whole situation explodes. Pathos and violence, almost in the same breath. But this is just one of the tricks Kassovitz plays on the audience. Even the act of shooting the whole film in black and white seems like a sick joke unto itself. In a film where morally, there is nothing but grey, is it not ironic that the movie itself is shot in monotone? In another memorable scene Hubert, the African American boy of the trio, discusses getting out of the tenement block, out of the way of life that is tearing him apart. Almost instantaneously, the camera soars out of the window, flying above the tenement buildings like a bird. Kassovitz's irony is impossible to miss. This is what the young men of the film will never experience, this flight, and yet Kassovitz is presenting it to us on a platter.

The Special Features on the two-disc edition of the film I saw were impressive. One interview with Kassovitz is interesting and informative as the young director discusses the real life incident that inspired the film. There is also a collection of trailers and a handful of unnecessary deleted scenes.

In conclusion Hate is a dark film, a depressing film, but a film that you will find impossible to forget. From the very shot to that terrible, disturbing act of violence that concludes the whole experience, you will be glued to your seat. Because Kassovitz will completely immerse you, in the world of La Haine.

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