Re-released at this depressingly apt point in time, 1995 French drama La Haine (Hate) follows three disaffected youths (Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui) over the course of a single day and night, in the aftermath of an act of police brutality that left their friend hospitalised.
25 years on, Mathieu Kassovitz’s masterpiece continues to justify its perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, its impact only inflamed in the intervening years. Here’s a film that somehow feels totally lifelike and completely cinematic at the same time, a quality achieved more recently by Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and little else. Constantly in motion, the black-and-white camerawork seamlessly blends drama and reality, as though continuing to follow protesters after the news cameras have been switched off.
La Haine is a direct response to real incidents of police violence much like this year’s Les Misérables, which flipped the perspective to that of the cops. Here we see the world as viewed by the young people targeted by the system, taking us on a journey not just through the deserted streets of Paris, but also inside their heads. Faultless performances from the three leads (who lend their names to their characters) provide the intimidating Cassel with his first big break, and a sense of authenticity that makes the impressively naturalistic Les Misérables look almost like Hollywood.
Even now there’s something thoroughly modern about La Haine‘s combination of the French Nouvelle Vague and American New Wave, reflected musically in a mashup of Édith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ and KRS-One’s ‘Sound of da Police’. Reservoir Dogs and Taxi Driver echo through the self-referential action, as Bob Marley, Isaac Hayes and the Beastie Boys weave in and out of the constant banlieue chatter.
Kassovitz mixes the movie with memorably eccentric moments and characters, profound gags (so far so good…) and timestamps that tick 24-style towards an inevitable explosion (or possibly the implosion of his career with Gothika). Uncompromising, unpatronising and deeply funny (except when it’s not), La Haine still burns with the anger and compassion of the downtrodden and undefeated. A quarter-century later, the world remains theirs.