During the train ride from de Gaulle Airport into Paris, first time visitors are often taken aback by the wretched slums and crumbling housing projects that rather incongruously surround the world’s most beautiful city. Now celebrating its 20th birthday, Mathieu Kassovitz’s heartbreakingly superb La Haine (The Hate) offers a frank and intimate portrait of life in these rugged environs. Told through the disillusioned eyes of three young men (Vincent Cassel. Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui), the film presents a world devoid of hope and prospects that more closely resembles a war zone than a suburban neighborhood.
Over the next 24 hours, we will follow this misbegotten threesome as they roam their forlorn concrete jungle, with blasting hip hop and gangsta posturing their only relief from angry gendarmes and the constant allure of petty crime. But when Cassel’s Vinz finds a missing policeman’s pistol, those temptations turn violent. For the first time in his life, Vinz feels powerful and important. To these lost souls, the gleaming steel of the revolver becomes a symbol, and Vinz’s judgment and maturity will face a deadly test.
La Haine is a film rich in atmosphere and cultural detail, with Pierre Aïm’s harsh monochromic images perfectly mirroring the characters’ psychological landscapes. The film caused quite a stir on its release, for it was the first time many French citizens had been exposed to hip hop culture, and the growing social disfunction among their immigrant community. The film itself amplifies this sense of separation and obliviousness. When the trio go into central Paris to collect a debt, they’re awestruck at the city’s genteel splendor, and eventually feel a type of nostalgia for their squalid flats. The violent disaffection with society depicted in La Haine is not unique to French youth and, in the ensuing decades, has made its way to virtually every industrialized nation. The core issues haven’t changed, they’ve just gotten worse.