La Haine is a black-and-white film from 1995 that garnered a great deal of attention and acclaim for its gritty depiction of life in the slums of France. In English, the title means “hate.” The film, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, is an examination of violence. The Criterion Collection, having previously issued it on DVD, has now made it available as a technically superb Blu-ray edition. The critical consensus seems to clearly justify such treatment, and apparently the film is extremely highly regarded in France. It’s not an easy film to love, but definitely has interesting elements and deeply committed performances by its primary cast.
Three young men, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé), and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), spend a single day contemplating avenging their fallen friend, Abdel. Hospitalized after a brutal beating at the hands of law enforcement, Abdel had gotten caught up in riots that consumed Paris. During these riots, a police officer lost his firearm. Vinz found it and wants to use it on someone. The three friends are without any discernible purpose or ambition. They wander around the lower class suburbs of Paris, biding their time as they discuss retaliation to get even for what happened to their gravely injured friend.
Kassovitz, who also scripted the film, gives his trio of primary characters a handful of traits to distinguish them from one another. There’s a certain amount of cliché in each case, particularly the prototypical hothead Vinz. Though very well portrayed by Cassel, the wannabe tough guy part has been done to death. Hubert is the sympathetic one, a boxer and stoner who just wants to the leave the cycle of violence behind him. Less defined is Saïd, who kind of represents a more moderate, level-headed sensibility. Not much happens as they traipse around the neighborhoods, basically wasting the single day depicted throughout the film (one of Kassovitz’s cornier gimmicks is flashing the time of day against a black background throughout the film). They get into fights, they threaten various hoods, and they try to avoid entanglements with law enforcement.
By the time the rather forced tragic dénouement rolls around, there has been no valid connection established between the viewer and characters. They are unsympathetic chumps, difficult to develop any true emotional attachment to. At least that was my experience, but again the film has a considerable fan base among critics and cineastes in general. Stylistically the film is quite vivid and visceral, with striking camera work and stark, but beautiful, black-and-white cinematography. At just over 90 minutes, La Haine moves quickly, but ultimately left me feeling oddly uninvolved, indifferent to the plight of these characters.