Sunday, 19 November 2006

La Haine (1995)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 10th June 2006.

La HaineOne of my all-time favourite movies is Francois Truffaut's
Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), a French black and white "social drama" that I first saw in my late teens and eagerly sought out on DVD when I got my first player.

La Haine (Hate) reminds me very much of everything I loved about that film. I'd seen the rave reviews from the critics when the film was first released about 10 years ago, but I'm one of those people who thought City of God was a 'good' movie, but not neccessarily one I'd want to sit through again, and, with the false impression that La Haine was very similar, didn't put it high on my list of 'Films to see or watch on DVD'. The violence and language of these sorts of films (or so I thought) get rather tedious after a while, and there's enough of that in the real world, without spending your leisure time watching more of it too. My mistake was in not realising that La Haine isn't a film about violence or continual bad language - it's a film about politics. And a fascinating one too - one that tries to play fair with both sides of the political divide that exists.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary the movie was released last Monday in a new 'Ultimate Edition' - actually an individually numbered limited edition (I have number '708 of 10000'). I've mentioned Fox's 'Cinema Reserve' luxury releases in previous blog entries, and although this isn't part of that series, it could well have been included. This latest DVD release of the film (its third in the UK) comes in the same fancy tin packaging as the Cinema Reserve releases, and contains a luxurious booklet about the movie, as well as two DVDs and a CD of the musical soundtrack. At a typical online selling price of under £16 it's a bargain.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What's the movie like?

Well, like Les Quatre Cents Coups, it's in black and white (although filmed in colour, with some of the original colour shots being included in the accompanying feature-length documentary about the film) and it's in French with subtitles, which will probably kill a lot of potential UK sales. But it's a lot less depressing than I'd expected. There's humour here. And friendship. And, above all, an honesty that I haven't seen in movies for a long time. But most of all there's incredible direction.

On the accompanying feature-length '10 years of La Haine' where the recent Paris riots are contrasted with the 10 year anniversary and making of the movie, one of the producers reveals that director/writer Mathieu Kassovitz's motto throughout fiming was 'One idea per shot'. And it shows. Boy, does it show! There are some truly stunning and original set-piece sequences here, and although one might criticise these as being a bit gimmicky, or criticise the director for his love of continuous shots rather than use of cuts, they left this viewer with images that will be hard to forget. One is never bored by the style of filming in this movie. Particular favourites were an incredible helicopter shot that takes the viewer from a DJ playing on his decks out across the estate on which the main characters live and on to Paris. There's a clever 'talkie' scene set in a public lavatory where the use of mirrors in cinematography has, in my view, never been bettered. There's a 'Vertigo' inspired scene where the whole of Paris suddenly rushes in on the main characters - an old trick, but never done so dramatically as it is here. There's some sensational 'move around the character' circular shots that give you the character's viewpoint in ways that wouldn't otherwise be possible, despite the universally outstanding performances from all the cast. Bottom line: the camera point of view is never boring or static. There isn't a single shot in this film that feels surplus to requirements or dull.

And just when you're getting ready to leave the warmth of your chair, thinking the film has done all it can, there's the killer closing scene. Not dragged out and played in slo-mo, as would have been the case if this were a Hollywood movie, but sudden, totally unexpected and lightening fast, so that as the final credits roll you're stuck to your seat in shock and silence at what you've just seen.

The politics of the film are not as left wing as the reviews had led me to believe. Stories of council estate youths vs the police and gun hate crimes may not sound your cup of tea (they're certainly not mine), but the film is about a lot more than that - it's about humanity, human failing, and the tragedy that is our inability to understand and get on with each other. If the film has a message, it's a very simple one - that hatred breeds hatred. The film shows both sides doing good things, and both sides doing bad things, demonstrating how an ingrained 'us vs them' can only lead to escalating violence and tragedy. In the light of the recent Paris riots and the situation in Iraq it's probably even more relevant today than when it was first made 10 years ago. Thought-provoking and definitely worth 90 minutes of your time if you can rent or buy it.

La Haine screencap

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