Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 97 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 2.0 French
Release Date: April 17, 2007
Review Date: April 11, 2007
Mathieu Kassovitz’s French film La Haine translates into English as Hate, but it could just as easily have been titled Rage, Disenfranchised, or Loose. The story of three raging friends attempting to survive the Banlieue ghetto on the outskirts of Paris, the protagonists have no jobs, no future, and no hope. What they do have is an encompassing rage against all authority (parents, police, older siblings, their elders) and a desire to vent this rage on something or someone. Set amid a series of riots involving suburban gangs and the police, La Haine is one of the most visceral experiences in recent cinema.
Three young men, seemingly in their early 20s and not likely to make it to 30, live a typical day in their lives, aimlessly shuffling about their neighborhoods looking for trouble. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Kounde), and Said (Said Taghmaoui) have no work to keep them occupied, no other friends that they can depend upon, no love interests to help them stay grounded or feel worthwhile. (In fact, they even antagonize some girls they’re attracted to at an art gallery; they can’t seem to stem their rage in any situation). What Vinz does have, however, is a gun, picked up at an altercation with the police the night before when Vinz’s acquaintance Abdel was badly injured. Vinz vows that a cop will die by his hand if his friend dies. And there’s that constantly ticking clock that clicks off all the unfulfilling, dead-end encounters the three young men have during this fateful day. And yes, someone will die; in fact, more than one person meets his maker. It’s the when, where, and who that keeps us on the edges of our seats.
There’s no surprise that Mathieu Kassovitz won the Best Director prize at Cannes for his work in this film. It’s a beautifully crafted movie crackling with feelings of rage and alienation and featuring many kinetic moments. Some of the film feels loose and improvisational while other scenes are so clearly staged, so beautifully composed (a troubled Vinz in relief with a statue of a hand gently cradling a face; the three men sitting blankly in front of a video screen projecting images of the riots from the previous night) that they’re etched into one’s memory. If one mixed Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets with Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, you’d have something close to the overpowering feeling this film offers. La Haine is a film that’s incredible to experience for the first time and impossible to forget once it’s over.
There are excellent, gritty performances, too, especially from Vincent Cassel as quasi-group leader Vinz. He talks tough, he wants to be tough, and he’s got a hair-trigger temper, not the best thing for someone carrying a 9mm Glock. Yet, his immaturity is still on display in fits of pique with his friends when he feels they’ve abandoned or disappointed him, and he's generally impossible to reason with; his rage is literally all-consuming. And look close for the director himself playing a young skinhead caught and beaten by the gang near the end of the film.
The film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is presented in a terrific anamorphic transfer that’s razor sharp (except when the video’s contrast has been purposely blown out and made grainy) and very detailed. Though the film was shot on color stock, it’s been printed in black and white to achieve a stark, serious tone to the piece, and the contrast is superb. No digital artifacts have entered the presentation, and the picture is stunning in its rich, deep blacks and uncompromising grayscale. The white English subtitles are also very easy to read. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
Both a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track and the original Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track are provided, each in the original French language. The 5.1 track is primarily front-centric with surrounds only coming into play during a few music interludes. What’s more, the audio mix for both tends to sound trebly and lacks bass. Had the lower end been more pervasive, it might have given the film’s tension even greater heft (if that’s possible).
Jodie Foster offers a nineteen minute introduction to the film on disc one (she brought the film to the United States for distribution). Her enthusiasm is contagious, but one might wish to steer clear of this feature if he hasn’t seen the film for the first time. Too much is given away in her endeavoring to explain the deep impression the film made on her at first viewing. Like Terry Jones’ too-informative introductions on the Jacques Tati Criterion DVDs, one admires the elation but regrets that the guts of the film are revealed to the uninitiated before he’s had a chance to experience the movie for himself. Be warned!
A running commentary in English by director Mathieu Kassovitz accompanies the film. He covers all aspects of the production and even some ten years after the film’s launch still speaks with some cynicism about the lives of the people on the “outskirts” who are still so powerless to change their lives. It’s a well focused and interesting commentary.
Also on disc one are two letterboxed, non-anamorphic theatrical trailers for the film, each no more than a minute of running time. The second one with the sound of a ticking clock over stark images from the film is tremendously effective.
The majority of special features are on a dedicated second disc. First up is an 83-minute documentary (mostly black and white but with some color footage) on the making of the film presented in anamorphic widescreen. Filled with astonishing details on the background of the film, how it came to be written, produced, and filmed, and the astonishing reception it received on its premiere at Cannes, the documentary couldn’t be more complete. It’s in French with English subtitles, of course, but it’s fascinating to see some of the film’s creative staff now ten years later when many of them have gone on to have substantial careers after their first taste of international acclaim. The documentary is divided into nine chapters.
A second featurette titled “Social Dynamite” presents three sociologists discussing with candor and some degree of pessimism the phenomenon of public housing not only in France but also around the world and how accurately that world and its inhabitants are reflected in La Haine. This 34-minute discussion in English is also presented in anamorphic widescreen (but in color video) and divided into six chapters.
There is a six minute feature entitled “Preparing for the Shoot” using camcorder footage to document the three stars and director who shared a small apartment in the district where the film was shot, explaining why they felt it necessary to live among the people they were portraying. It’s nice to see the actors with their hair down behind the scenes right before filming began, but the information contained is simply a repetition of facts already discussed in the commentary and the earlier documentary.
There is also a six minute feature showing the behind-the-scenes preparation for a fantasy sequence in the picture involving the shooting of a policeman. This segment wasn’t organized well enough to have much impact.
The disc also contains two deleted scenes and two briefly extended scenes followed by explanations from the director as to why the footage was scrapped or altered. Since the scenes amount to very little screen time at all, there are no gems awaiting discovery with this footage. Director Kassovitz admitted in his commentary that his method of shooting a film in long takes leaves very little excess footage, so the lack of it here is no real surprise. We do see the film in color here, however, making it clearer than ever that presenting this movie to the world in black and white was an incredibly effective decision.
The disc ends with a very brief stills section, more behind-the-scenes shots than stills from the actual film.
Also included in the package is a booklet containing stills from the film and two articles: one by film scholar Ginette Vincendea on the impact La Haine had on the world of international cinema and an appreciation of the film by legendary filmmaker Costa-Gavras.
I was a newcomer to the world of La Haine, but afterwards I certainly left the film shaken and very much moved. I would think it impossible to have any other reaction to this searing, sensitive drama.