After a chaotic night of rioting in a marginal suburb of Paris, three young friends, Vinz, Hubert and Saïd, wander around unoccupied waiting for news about the state of health of a mutual friend who has been seriously injured when confronting the police.
Matthieu Kassowitz's <i>La Haine</i> (Hate) is a portrait of youth disenfranchisement and the ensuing rage set in the public housing projects outside Paris. Before this film was released, many foreign viewers knew only the well-dressed, white, reserved and educated France depicted in e.g. films of the 1960s New Wave. Even many French people were unaware of the darker undercurrents of their own society, as no film had dared to handle this subject matter before. <i>La Haine</i> was a bombshell. While shot in 1995, it remains entirely topical today, as riots have continued to make the news in recent years. <i>La Haine</i> follows one day in the lives of three young men of different ethnic backgrounds all born and raised in one particular housing project: the aggressive Jew Vinz (Vincent Cassell), the insecure, clownish Arab Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) and the more level-headed, pensive sub-Saharan African Hubert (Hubert Koundé). The film opens on a spring morning, in the aftermath of a riot which has rocked these youths' housing project. Some cars and buildings are destroyed, and the news reports that a police officer has lost his gun in the chaos of the night before. During the 24-hour period before the film's shocking ending, this trio tours the bittersweet environment of their housing project (violence and poverty on one hand, loving families on the other) and, in an effort to pick up money owed to them, they navigate the alien environment (rich, educated, white) of downtown Paris. This is not only a revelatory film in showing viewers a side of France they had never seen before, but it is also extremely entertaining. The performances by these relatively unexperienced actors are totally convincing, Vincent Cassell in particular. Kassowitz shuns his country's own film tradition and instead sculpts the action under inspiration from the USA. However, the "urban", "hip-hop" aesthetic he employs does not lower the film to the more vacuous Hollywood productions but instead is at the level of Spike Lee and Scorsese. The director's decision to print the film in black and white has imbued it with a gravitas that makes it timeless. That said, in spite of the fine acting and ethnographic detail, the plot itself is rather mundane, which holds me back from giving this too high a rating.