Review: La Haine




This film is soaked in the cool machismo of its characters. It flows like a clever turn of phrase, like punchy slang, like a barrage of adjectives. It gestures with street-savvy swagger. The camera flies, stops, stares, makes ironic commentary with an angle or a lengthened take. We follow an African, a Maghreb and a Jew, the unofficial humus of France, as they roam the ashen landscape of a housing project outside Paris. They are embarrassing statistics residing in a country that has removed them from its national consciousness. They are thus transformed into ahistorical beings, unnameable outliers: their pasts ignored, their futures deferred, their presents erased. We watch the three friends as they persist in their stubborn existence, living lives in constant peril, not because of the mortal dangers they face, but because the conditions of their permanence are slight. They are irrelevant to society, and if they were to disappear, total impunity would prolong and ensure their irrelevance well onto death. La Haine captures the existential tenor of marginality.

Mathieu Kassovitz and his cinematographer Pierre Aim adopt a lively and muscular camera that mimics the self-assured strut of the male protagonists. But the camera is only partially absorbed by the low-class street culture it portrays. At some hidden level within the visual gymnastics, there is a critical attitude, a distancing: the camera mimics the self-assured strut, but it also mocks it and satirizes it, unearths its over-confident chauvinism, questions its incessant violence. This appraisal is not only rhetorical, it is not simply suggested by the script. It is an echo that bounces off every single image, becoming organically enmeshed within the aesthetic. The camera imbues moments with undeserved grandeur and introduces characters with images of iconic transcendence worthy of Sergio Leone, but our expectations are always disappointed: the moments are languorous and banal; the characters unremarkable and flawed. The visual histrionics settle into a pattern of false publicity, as people and situations are framed larger-than-life, only so that their promise can be followed by something smaller, more prosaic, messier and more imperfect than we expected.

La Haine performs continuous cartoon dives. It sprints determinedly on air and finally falls into a void when it finds no ground to support its weight. That is its irony, its bleak humor. The camera decorates and aggrandizes its subjects. It even offers its own cinematic equivalent of the strut, swooping and craneshooting and running handheld through the suburban hell it inhabits, embellishing everything and everyone it sees with an attractively cool veneer that slowly disintegrates as the film progresses. The youthful characters rage to be noticed, ignoring the laws imposed by a society that excludes and negates their existence. Displaced to the fringes, they move drastically to announce their presence. Yet this movement, charged with secret and turbulent desires, is ultimately empty, superficial, ineffectual, and thoughtless, caught in its own circular logic. The characters move to call attention to themselves. Movement for the sake of movement, but not movement with direction, because no direction has been revealed to these invisible youths. So they go instead in violent circles. The camera moves by their side. It soars with them. It hollers with them. And likewise with them it tumbles into oblivion.

[notification type=”star”]90/100 - La Haine captures the existential tenor of marginality.[/notification]


About Author

Buenos Aires Film Critic. I might look like a cinephile, sound like a cinephile, and watch films like a cinephile, but I'm not sure that I am, in fact, a cinephile. I like to think of myself as some sort of itinerant (and probably lost) traveler who has chosen film as his preferred medium of imaginative flight, and who has in turn chosen imaginative flight as his preferred method of thinking.

  • Hamza Khan

    Awesome review, you are a very eloquent, sophisticated writer. A most welcome addition to the NP community!