La Haine (1995)

La Haine is a 1995 French classic film written, co-edited, and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. The basic story is about a trio of friends, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Koundé), who come from immigrant families living in run-down housing projects in the outskirts of Paris. The plot unfolds when Vinz finds a police gun the day after a brutal riot. The movie follows the group for 19 hours straight as they aimlessly roam through the French ghetto. They face new situations and people that they didn’t have the power to confront before their discovery.

Filmed in black and white, the movie is a raw and honest depiction of the social and political unrest present around housing projects (banlieues) in Parisian suburbs. During the 90s, La Haine became a huge, critical success in France as well as internationally; it was the first time the marginalized banlieue had been given a voice and brought forward to the mainstream audience.

Loosely based on the 1986 police beatings and student riots that resulted in the death of a student protester, Malik Oussekine, Kassovitz directly refers to Oussekine’s death in the opening montage of the film.

The dynamics of the multi-ethnic friendship between the rage-filled, anti-police Vinz, the cheeky, foul-mouthed Saïd, and the quiet, philosophical Hubert, is what really makes this film so interesting. That, and its daring screenplay and improvisational performance that will instantly win anyone over.

What’s unusual about this unexpected coming-of-age tale is that even with such a bleak backdrop, it does not fail to provide us with a hint of hope. One can see how Kassovitz refrains from victimizing these young men. Instead, he wants us to see them as human beings trying to find meaning in their lives as they fail to integrate into French society. Beneath the hard-hitting humor and punchy veneer lies the intense racial tension and frustration from police brutality that these unemployed men of broken families and low socio-economic status have to face on a daily basis.

The reason why this movie instantly feels like a classic is because of the social phenomena that Kassovitz so accurately captured 20 years ago. La Haine was obviously created by a person who understood both sides of French culture. Due to Kassovitz’s keen cultural and timely understanding, it’s not surprising that this film’s main issues are relevant to current events.

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