Film of the Day: La Haine (1995)

This film looks at the relationship between three young men living in the banlieues of France. La Haine was quite controversial when it was released and caused quite a stir, mainly for the way it was shot and its narrative content.

Many of the films released in France at this time fell into two categories: the heritage film and the cinema du look. The heritage film, as the name suggests concentrated primarily on historical events, and were set in the past similar to the English period dramas. Whereas the cinema du look films were much more concerned with how the film looked, and were visually spectacular. Yet La Haine bought with it a new film genre, that of the cinema du banlieue, which depicted the more poverty stricken side of French city life. Similar to the English Social Realist films, these films concentrated on unemployment, housing estates and riots. Other banlieue films are not readily available, however the first banlieue film was titled Deux Ou Trois Choses Que Je Sais D’Elle’ (d. Jean Luc Goddard, 1967). This film is a dramatised documentary looking at prostitution, unemployment and the lack of emotion towards the Atomic War, and was a banlieue film before the term was even invented. I will refer to key scenes within the film to show how successful Kassovitz has been when representing this way of life.

In La Haine, the banlieue is represented as a bad place to live, the equivalent to the British council estates. As Ardagh writes, “la banlieue’ has today come to evokesocial tensions, delinquency, high jobless rates, frustration, maybe racial conflict” . And as we can see in the film, apart from maybe Hubert and his gym, the other main characters don’t have jobs, and they all, especially Vinz seem to have delinquent behaviour. This is shown to the audience in many ways, and in many key scenes which I shall look into further in the essay. The housing estate where the boys live looks very crowded. When we see Vinz, Hubert and Said walking around amongst the banlieue, there are lots of other youths just standing around, talking to each other. The whole estate looks dirty because of the high volume of graffiti on almost everything. There are lots of high rise flats, which house lots of people, but each flat is small. The banlieue looks very small and claustrophobic, almost prison like. We can see this when we see inside Hubert’s and Vinz’s flats. Vinz shares his room with his sister, and the dining room is very small, as it barely holds a table. This is similar in Hubert’s flat, as the kitchen and dining room are difficult to move around. This suggests the sheer poverty of life in the Banlieue. We hear some dialogue between Hubert and his mother about him wanting to leave the banlieue, and she just humours him because unless things change drastically, he won’t ever be able to get out. We discover that he used to have a gym, which was burned down in the riots, but it was something he was proud of, something he worked for. He had made a positive step in his life to try and get out of where he lives, yet because of where he lives, this was destroyed. The fact the film is shot in black and white adds a lot to its representation of the banlieue. It makes the whole film appear more gritty and real-life, like CCTV or a documentary, it makes the banlieue seem more depressing. It also shows the emphasis on racism with clear cut black and white imagery. The films dialogue is very slang-ish, and shows the audience that this film isn’t high class. It is trying to represent real people, and real situations, so the use of slang allows people to identify with this way of life. There is also a lot of meaningless dialogue. For example, Said’s little brother, talking about Candid Camera seems meaningless, and the point Kassovitz is trying to make is that it IS meaningless. Not everything in everyday life has a point and meaning, and he is trying to represent real life, where pointless conversations occur. Similarly, Said’s jokes seem to have no purpose, as well as some of the other dialogue between characters. But as mentioned, this happens in real life and therefore this film represents real life.

The way families and women are represented in La Haine is very distinct. There is a severe lack of a nuclear family. Vinz lives with his mother, grandmother and sister, and he is scared of his grandmother, which we can see when he goes to collect her peppers. She has authority in that house, yet we only ever see her inside those walls. Hubert lives with his pregnant mother and his sister, and we learn that his brother has gone to jail. When the boys are in Paris, we learn that Said lives with his sister and brother, and that both of his parents are in jail. We see the boys’ families, which are all female, when we are inside the walls of the flats. This suggests that men rule the banlieue, they have the authority, yet women are in charge inside the home. When filming throughout the banlieue, we see males everywhere; the central characters, the police, the youths. When in the gallery at Paris, we see how they react to two girls and it is highly disrespectful as they start an argument with them. This could be because they haven’t seen how men and women interact, because of their broken families. Also, we can see that there is a lack of male role model for each of the boys, which could account for some of their problems. The only character who has something close to a male role model is Said, which is his elder brother, and Said is the only one who seems to escape the situation at the end, as he isn’t killed, nor has he killed, whereas Vinz is shot, and Hubert either shoots, or is shot.

The police are represented in a bad way in La Haine, but if we consider where the film got its idea from then maybe this is a correct representation of police in the banlieue. According to Forbes it is inspired by events in April 1993 when a seventeen year old was brutally beat up by police and then died later in custody. This can easily be seen by the underlying story of Abdel, who is in hospital because of police brutality during the riots. Forbes also suggests that “the unemployment, racial tension and rioting in several large citiesprovide the film’s social backdrop”. This, therefore suggests that the narrative and images we are shown in La Haine do actually represent real life tensions at that time. The police are seen as aggressive in many scenes in the banlieue. The scene on the roof seems a little excessive, as some members of the estate are having a barbeque on one of the roofs of a flat, and there is music, and social interaction between many people. The police go up there, because the youths are being disrespectful to the mayor, to get them all off the roof. The police are very up close to the youths, invading their personal space, and Said’s brother is trying to talk to them calmly but the police are not listening. There is also a scene in the hospital when the boys are trying to visit Abdel, and the police won’t let them see him. Vinz is being aggressive and shouting, and Hubert starts to behave similarly, but Said, like his brother, tries to reason with the police to see their friend. The police them arrest Said, calling him the leader’, whereas it was actually the other two causing a stir. In spite of this, there is one police officer who seems to be on their side. He gets Said out of prison, and says to Hubert that he can get him a grant to rebuild his gym. This policeman seems to see the good in people and tries to help them, as Said did nothing wrong, and the gym was a positive step in Hubert’s life. Yet, Vinz just swears at him and insults him, and he is the one who ultimately suffers at the hands of the police. Obviously the most important scene regarding the police is at the end of the film. The police see Vinz and Said and recognise them from the roof, and one of the policemen holds Vinz at gun point. It is at this moment Hubert runs over with the missing gun and holds it in the direction of the policeman to let Vinz go, yet instead Vinz is accidentally shot by the police officer. This shows the audience how blundering and careless the police can be in the banlieue. After Vinz is shot, the policeman then turns his gun on Hubert, as if to shoot him as well. If this were to happen in Paris, there would no doubt be uproar, but it seems unimportant in the banlieue, as it is such a rough area. In comparison, a brief moment in which we hear of a policeman in Paris, it is when Said is complimenting him, as he says he called me Sir’. This is a complete contrast to the police in the banlieue, which suggests what a bad area these places can be.

Banlieue films very often show Paris from a very different point of view than mainstream French films. Very often Paris is seen with all its landmarks, looking stunning and beautiful, like a postcard. However, in films like La Haine, it is seen from a normal’ point of view. When the boys go to Paris, the only landmark we see is the Eiffel Tower, from a distance when they are stoned on the roof. One of them clicks their fingers to switch off the lights but is told that it only works in the movies’. Even though this is a movie, it doesn’t work, which suggests how this film represents real life in the banlieue, and is not a movie representation of it. There is a scene on the underground in Paris in which we see a beggar, and Said tells her to get a job. This shows that poverty in Paris, difficult as it may be, is just normal everyday life for people in the banlieue.

There are a few strange scenes in this film, such as Vinz’s dream-like state. This sequence is when he has run off in Paris, and sees policemen at what appears to be the scene of a crime, is a good use of cinematography and editing. His friends have got so high they don’t realise he is missing, and when they do they believe it is too late. He is pointing a gun’ at a policeman and just as they arrive, he blows them away. With the use of sound we, the audience, believe this really happens. However, this is just what Vinz is imagining, and in real life it is just his hand. This could suggest that one of the only ways for people in the banlieue to escape the harsh reality of their lives is through the means of drugs. There seem to be lots of references to drugs in this film, and this could be representative of escapism in the banlieue. Another scene similar to this with regards to sound is the Taxi Driver’ sequence in Vinz’s mirror, when he re-enacts the famous “you talkin’ to me” scene. At the end of this, he holds up his hand, as he does in Paris, and shoots’. But again the sound of a gunshot makes this seem like a real event. This could signify that Vinz could become as crazy as Travis Bickle, and trigger happy, yet we discover at the end that he is better than that as he gives the gun to Hubert. Maybe Vinz has reformed throughout this day with the help of his friends, and has realised that if he kills a policeman for Abdel’s death, then he is no better than them.

The film has an unresolved ending, almost like life in the banlieue. However this film is set during one day, and there cannot be resolution in one day, it is just the representation of an average day in the banlieue. There are, however, solutions offered to the main characters, for example, Hubert is offered help to rebuild his gym. He has been in jail but we can see throughout the film with his interaction with Vinz that he has learned from his mistakes. He has been in the marines, and therefore has some education, and he has a strong desire to leave. With the aid of support, his dream may come true. Said seems to be content where he lives, he doesn’t overly complain about his situation, and is often seen telling jokes. He doesn’t get into trouble purposely, he doesn’t act aggressively or violently, and he accepts where he lives and tries to make the best of it. Vinz, however, hates where he lives, he hates the situation and more importantly hates the police. He took part in the riots and is proud of what he has done, it is also suggested that he helped burn down the gym. He is overly aggressive and violent, yet in the end he dies. This may be offering a message to people who live in the banlieue, possibly to follow their dreams and they may be able to get out, or to accept their life and make the best of it. It may be telling the youths not to be aggressive or full of hate because there are consequences. According to Forbes, “hordes of young people from la banlieue’ were swarming into Paris to see themselves represented on screen”. Therefore many people from this way of life went to see the film, and maybe this offered them some advice on how to deal with their lives in such circumstances.

In conclusion, I think Kassovitz has represented life in the banlieue quite well, and I think this way of life can also be seen in certain parts of England too. Especially in the art gallery scene which shows the boys’ complete inability to interact with people in a respectful manner. They go there for shelter and free food and drink, yet end up insulting two girls and shouting abuse at the people inside as they are asked to leave. This kind of behaviour can be seen in England a lot, from the chav’ culture, which can be see a lot in La Haine too with the aggressive behaviour. This is just an observation I made, and if I had more time I might go into this further, but generally it would probably detract from the question at hand. The way in which Kassovitz represented real life was very effective, with the use of black and white documentary’ photography, the pointless dialogue with everyday actions and the fact that he only set out to represent one day in the banlieue. Even the main narrative was based on a real life event. Kassovitz definitely did his research before making this film, and many banlieue youths probably identified with La Haine.

by Adele Chapman (June 18 / 2007)

Taken from Helium.

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