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La Haine

Art House & International movie directed by Mathieu Kassovitz

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Gritty, raw and compelling -- life in the French projects

  • Oct 25, 2007
Racial tensions run high in this debut film by Matthieu Kassowitz. The film, which wears proudly the influence of American directors like Scorcese, and whose characters attempt to mimic the style of American gangsters, still manages to stand on its own as a uniquely French (but miles away from the arthouse style French)expression of the combination of despair with anger that leads inevitably to violence. None of these kids, in spite of their brash talk, really want to hurt anybody, but they know they are misunderstood and can't stand condescension, and over a 24 hour period circumstances conspire to get them into situations that can only end in pain.

Even 12 years later, the film feels fresh and distinctive. The filmmaking is subtle, and rarely calls attention to itself except for the occasional and justified stylistic flourish, like the perfect instance of an easily abused dolly in-zoom out shot that conveys the cramped awkwardness of the characters ill-adjustment to life in the posh center of Paris. The film is raw without being exploitative -- it manages to convey the perspective of its main characters without simply identifying with that perspective. The actors are all revelations -- its no wonder that Vincent Kassel, who is really the center of the film, has gone on to international stardom but I'm surprised that I didn't recognize the names of the other main characters, especially the one who played Hubert, since they turn in such fine performances it feels like documentary.

This is definitely a film to watch, that well deserved to be put out in a Criterion edition. There is a fine documentary about the projects, and a commentary by Kassowitz on the disc as well.

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About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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About this movie


It's easy to see whyLa Hainehad such an explosive effect when it was released in France; its potent portrait of racial discord and life in the housing projects outside of Paris is at odds with France's egalitarian vision of itself. This impact wouldn't have lasted, however, were the movie purely a political statement; fortunately, it's a riveting journey that follows three unemployed young men (Said Taghmaoui, Hubert Kounde, and Vincent Cassel) as they wander and try to decide what to do with the gun that one of them has found. This simple scenario results in a remarkably complex examination of race, class, violence, and the abuse of power in modern society, yet never feels preachy or forced. Hugely influenced by American directors like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee (particularlyDo the Right Thing),La Haineriffs through different styles and techniques, yet the movie feels organic and whole, driven by a genuinely passionate point of view. Dynamic, reckless, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle (and sometimes both; in one scene, Hubert and Said have been picked up by the police, who torture them for kicks. But watching the abuse is a rookie cop whose face quietly ripples with dismay, helplessness, and resignation), this is a must-see.

As is usual with Criterion releases, the extra features are excellent, including an in-depth but accessible documentary about the housing projects and riots that inspired the film, retrospective material on the making of the ...

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Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Genre: Foreign
DVD Release Date: April 17, 2007
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: Criterion
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