Friday, August 3, 2007

la haine, by mathieu kassovitz

Picking up on the black-and-white dystopian vibe of last week's selection, Alphaville, this week Skunkcabbage chose for us to take a look at Mathieu Kassovitz's 1995 film La Haine (aka Hate), a film which follows three friends through the aftermath of a neighborhood riot.

Kassovitz proves, pretty quickly, that he has an unerring eye for the dystopian zones built into the contemporary French urban landscape:

The film takes place over the course of a single day, and follows three friends as they wander through this environment, having a set of episodic encounters, clashing with police, rival gangs, and one another, and generally riffing. In this way, La Haine invites comparison some other films from around the same time period, such as Larry Clark's Kids (1995), or any of early Richard Linklater's films (Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993), Before Sunrise (1995)). The attention to social turmoil and class tensions also recalls Spike Lee's similarly-structured Do the Right Thing (1989).

As in many of these films, it's not entirely clear whether our sympathies are fully intended to lie with the young people the film observes. Kassovitz looks at certain aspects of their cultural life in a way that's unmistakably affectionate:

But there's also a degree of dramatic irony happening here: the battles that our protagonists engage in with the police or other authority figures lack any real strategic value. Here they are, for instance, pointlessly harrassing a grocery store clerk:

If the primary flaw in our protagonists is that they don't know how to choose their battles (or, perhaps more accurately, they don't have access to a battle worth choosing) this flaw is amplified when one of them, Vinz, gets his hands on this:

Remember the cliche: when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Updated for this film, it's a little closer to "when all you have is a gun, every problem looks like something that needs shooting"—

This is pretty much the basic Chekovian tension: once we've seen the gun, it's a given that it'll go off, the only question that remains is exactly when and where. And, perhaps, whether it will be likely to actually improve anyone's lot. If your answer to that last question is "probably not," La Haine may be your type of film.

Skunkcabbage's write-up is here.

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