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  Haine, La Paris After Dark
Year: 1995
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Stars: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui, Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Solo, Joseph Momo, Héloïse Rauth, Rywka Wajsbrot, Olga Abrego, Laurent Labasse, Choukri Gabteni, Nabil Ben Mhamed, Benoît Magimel, Médard Niang, Arash Mansour, Karin Viard
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: A Paris estate in 1995 has been rocked by a night of rioting thanks to the youths who have been whipped up into a fury for one of their number was attacked in police custody and now lies in hospital hovering between life and death. But now it is the morning, and the place is quiet again, though the hatred of the cops and the cops' hatred of them means tension could boil over at any moment once again. Living in this heightened state are Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), three friends of different ethnic backgrounds, one Jewish, one black and one Arabian, who are pondering their next move since Vinz has managed to steal a police gun in last night's chaos...

Although La Haine was one of France's most popular films outwith that nation, that success was nothing compared to the sensation it was within its borders. It was the absolute must-see of the year, and even the President insisted on his cabinet watching it at a special screening, such was the manner in which director Mathieu Kassovitz had encapsulated the mood of society after many months of social unrest and even terrorist attacks. It was clear there was something wrong in France, there was a lot of unhappiness, and it was also apparent to those who saw it that this movie could provide strong clues as to what was up. But looking back, was this wishful thinking or had Kassovitz genuinely tapped into something?

This wasn't a high budget project by any means, yet the direction raised itself above such constraints with its supreme stylishness, not least the black and white cinematography that, at least at the time, lent it the sheen of an art production given to subject matter that was overtly gritty and about as far from airy-fairy aesthetics as it was possible to get in its missive from the frontline methods. Kassovitz had been moved to write the script after the harsh treatment one of his friends received in custody, and that anger, erupting into a self-righteous fury at key moments, was channelled into a view of a community in crisis. Some were sceptical about the ethnic mix of the three lead characters, but it was more likely then than it would be once the twenty-first century got underway as fresh tensions arose.

Therefore there are no mentions of the Islamic terrorism that would mar France a couple of short decades later, indeed Saïd was very much the voice of reason in the middle, mediating between his two mates, the hotheaded Vinz and the cooler, more reserved Hubert. In addition, we were left in no doubt that the possession of the firearm, of any firearm or weapon, was bad news, not simply because the trio would get into serious trouble if the law found it on them, but also because the law themselves carried guns and that is what would kill people just like our three main characters; think of the pistol as an infection they are carrying and you would have some idea of how poisonous holding one about your person would be. Even so, there were those who objected to making heroes out of what amounted to potential criminals.

More than potential in places, though Kassovitz was careful to depict any point where they lapsed into lawbreaking as an essentially futile act, see breaking into the car or beating up the skinhead they separate from his gang, another instance of the disenfranchised nature of these lowest rung on the ladder citizens. All that said, this was by no means a dry lecture, such was the chaotic structure of the piece that it frequently found humour in the circumstances as the trio made their way through the French capital as night falls, nothing absolutely hilarious but you had to love the old guy who emerged from a toilet stall and launched into an anecdote about the importance of the timing and location of taking a shit: how was that for an apparent non sequitur? The protagonists may not have covered themselves in glory, there was too much loutish behaviour for that, but the film was careful to understand them and not simply caricature them, though the police might not feel as well depicted, and actually were most offended. Does La Haine stand up? Stylistically, yes, but it also shows how much can change in a short amount of time. Hip-hop score by Assassin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Mathieu Kassovitz  (1967 - )

French writer, director and actor. As writer and director, he made his biggest impact with electrifying urban drama La Haine. Assassin(s) followed, a longer version of one of his short films, then he moved into the thriller/horror genre with The Crimson Rivers and Gothika, sci-fi with the doomed Babylon A.D and real life drama in Rebellion. As an actor, he's best known for being the "hero" in A Self-Made Hero and as the heroine's romantic interest in Amelie.

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