La Haine (1995)
Directed and written by Mathieu Kassovitz
Last night I finished the new essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between The World And Me,” and I remarked upon it to my girlfriend and a couple customers as perhaps the greatest book I’d ever read. Watching La Haine, I realize that I now see things I couldn’t see before, things I didn’t understand. Or maybe I always did, but now I can better translate the symbols I see in this film.
La Haine is a film which depicts three young French men oppressed by classism and racism in a community in riot. Their friend, Abdel, has been brutalized by police in the riots, and he is in critical condition. They cannot see him, and attempts to do so nearly get them all arrested. Later, the film shows what happens when the two non-white men get arrested; in watching this film, I understand better what happened to Eric Garner, what happened to Sandra Bland.
The white man Vinz, played perfectly by Vincent Cassel, is furious. He has been shown what is life is meant to look like by the media, but classism has put him in this ghetto. Vinz dreams about going ballistic, about being a cop-killer, and eventually gets his chance. Vinz embodies much of what I’ve felt in the past year of police protests, a desire to bring down reckoning that comes from a place of security, of knowing that white people have to do more wrong to not get favors from friends in the force. Vinz is a body in the streets, dominated by protection of himself and taking what is his. He knows these rules, and he is protected because he can venture outside the streets and resemble a ballet director or a French prince.
The black man, Hubert, played subtly by Hubert Kounde, embodies much of what I have learned from Coates’s book. He seeks redemption, works hard to be twice as good as Vinz, to distinguish himself from that anger and to support his mother and siblings. Hubert is not without anger; he participates in protests, and he is a boxer. But he will not entertain the simple freedom of killing a cop and dying, which simply escalates the violence in his community; Hubert knows the rules of the streets, and he has the patience to recognize they rule against him. That patience is his virtue, and it is tested.
The Arabic man, Saïd, played quietly by Saïd Taghmaoui, is unfortunately overlooked in an effort to give Vinz and Hubert duality. He is younger, a bit more rash, a bit unsure whether to be confident or reticent. When faced with the direct conflicts between the two, Saïd resorts to peacemaking, either by separation or by distraction. He does not want to help them grow, and when the situation grows, he takes opportunities to retreat.
Perfectly shot, paced, and scored by excellent popular music, there is nothing I would change about La Haine. But Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book taught me something that places La Haine as a dated or foreign relic. In one scene, four men enact gun violence upon each other before being arrested, and the three protagonists join a large-scale rush on the police officers, who they fear will enact violence upon the fighters.
In La Haine, the police slightly escalate the situation, but they do not enact any noticeable violence upon the protesters. Based on our reports of the American justice system, the four men who carried firearms might be dead immediately, and responding like a human with fear is a death warrant.
A new favorite film.