It's been labelled French cinema's answer to Boyz N The Hood, but La Haine
(Hate) has a flavour all of its own. Writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz butts
European urbanity up against American street style as kids clash with cops in
suburban Paris. The result is an explosion of scathing social commentary and
dynamic storytelling. Delving into the generational, racial, and class divides of
his native France, Kassovitz offers a fearless - if unreservedly pessimistic attack on the frontlines of power.
During a riot in the outskirts of Paris, police beat an Arab teenager (Abdel Ahmed
Ghili) into a coma, fuelling a fire of hatred inside Vinz (Vincent Cassel) - a Jew who
swears to "whack" a cop if the boy dies. It's left to Vinz's cohorts, the jocular Saïd
(Saïd Taghmaoui) - also Arab - and subdued African boxer Hubert (Hubert Koundé)
to talk him out of his bloody plan as they embark on a loafing odyssey from the
immigrant neighbourhoods to the big city. Still, the time bomb keeps ticking.
"A FATALISTIC ACCOUNT OF SOCIETY'S DECLINE"
Counting down 24 hours, Kassovitz never gives the illusion of a happy ending. This
is a fatalistic account of society's decline and it's plainly one-sided - the only cop who
shows sympathy for the "troubled youth" is ineffective among an army of bigots and
bullies. Evidently Kassovitz sees things in black and white, which might explain his
choice of a striking monochrome print.
But it's the conviction and bold invention with which Kassovitz tells the tale that
makes it utterly compelling. Despite a meditative pace, there are shades of Scorsese
in his kinetic camera moves, and in a scene lifted straight from Taxi Driver where
Vinz poses in the mirror with a gun, snarling, "You talkin' to me?"
Playing Vinz, Cassel radiates with a blistering intensity throughout, while Koundé
offsets him with a cool self-assurance. Taghmaoui also turns in an outstanding
performance, offering comic relief to balance the otherwise unbearable tension.
Superbly acted and brilliantly executed, La Haine will tear through you like a bullet.
Reviewed by Stella Papamichael
First impressions of the Film and its
Make notes on the following: did you like it and why, did you hate it – why?
Who are these characters and what did you think of them?
World Cinema can seem daunting to AS
Film students. Subtitles, black and white
cinematography and a lack of Hollywood
stars are all challenges for the
uninitiated. But if you have a taste for
genre movies, gangsters, guns, violence
and drugs, look no further! Pete
Turner compares the representations
of ghetto culture in foreign language
classics City of God and La Haine.
19 MediaMagazine | February 2011 | english and media centre
english and media centre | February 2011 | MediaMagazine
The narrative of City of God (2002) spans three
decades from the Sixties to the late Eighties. It
is the story of a favela (slum/shanty town) and
its inhabitants through these turbulent times.
Brazil has ‘nearly unrivalled economic inequality’
(Gilligan, 2006) and an estimated 6.5 million
inhabitants live in favelas. These people live in
extreme poverty and are surrounded by gang
violence and the drug trade. The selling and use
of cocaine increased through these decades and
is depicted in the film.
City of God was ‘financed by TV Globo,
Brazil’s biggest TV channel, and o2 Films,
Brazil’s biggest commercials company’ (Muir,
2008) and directed by two white middle-class
film-makers, Fernando Meirelles and Katia
Lund. It was made on a modest budget of
$3,300,000 and grossed over $24 million
worldwide suggesting that this was a film that
was made for, and appealed to, a mass audience,
not just the people of Brazil. The funding by
Brazilian corporations of more and more films
(and TV shows) about the favelas (e.g. Lower City,
Bus 174, Elite Squad, City of Men etc.) has raised
debates about the elite’s exploitation of the
poor by pandering to middle-class desires for
‘typical’ representations of young black males in
gangs, shooting guns and taking drugs.
On the other hand, La Haine (1995) is set
in the 1990s and the protagonists live in ‘les
banlieues’ (housing estates) on the outskirts
of Paris. It also deals with police brutality, racism
and civil unrest. It opens with immediate context:
real footage of the riots that regularly took place
between youths and police between 1986 and
1996 (and were continuing during filming). The
director, Mathieu Kassovitz, has often stated
that he was inspired to write the film when he
heard the story of:
20 MediaMagazine | February 2011 | english and media centre
a young Zairian, Makome M’Bowole [who]
was shot in 1993. He was killed at point blank
range while in police custody and handcuffed
to a radiator.
Made for approximately $3 million by firsttime film-maker Kassovitz, La Haine won many
awards (including Best Director at the Cannes
Film Festival); so devastating was its reception
the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, responded
by commissioning a special screening of the
film for the cabinet, which ministers were
required to attend
The narrative, cinematography and use of
music are all clearly influenced by American
independent films such as Boyz N The Hood and
film-makers such as Martin Scorsese and Spike
Young men from ethnic minorities are the
main social group represented in both films.
Each film has a young black male protagonist:
Rocket in City of God and Hubert in La Haine.
The American ‘hood’ film sub-genre often has a
character that is trying to reject a life of crime
and escape the trappings of the ‘hood’ in which
he lives (see also Boyz N The Hood and Menace
II Society). Rocket and Hubert both conform
to this archetype, and reject crime as a way
of life. Rocket flirts with crime but cannot go
through with muggings and hold-ups due to
his compassionate nature. He tries working at a
supermarket but is fired for his connections to
the favela. By the end of the film he has become a
successful photographer because of his access to
the gangs and knowledge of the favela. Similarly,
Hubert rejects the rioting of the other youths on
his estate. He runs a gym that he worked hard to
get a grant for, and promotes boxing as a sport
for young people to get involved in. The audience
first meets him in the ruined gym after the rioters
have trashed and burnt it in the previous night’s
riots. The film ends with Hubert sucked in to
potentially committing the murder of a police
officer (or being murdered himself ) as retaliation
for the shooting of his friend. Characters who try
to escape the ghetto life are often stopped from
doing so by circumstances out of their control –
or even by death (see also Bullet Boy and Benny
in City of God).
These representations of young black males
are life-affirming and positive. However, other
characters confirm the more negative stereotypes
of youths from ethnic minorities. For example,
Lil Ze in City of God and Hubert in La Haine
are both drug dealers. Lil Ze is a typical crime
film villain; the audience watches his rise to
the top, followed by his subsequent decline
and death. He is violent and psychotic, with
no remorse for his actions or sympathy for his
victims. He is a cocaine dealer, rapist and gang
leader; out of control, hungry for power and
desperate to control the favela. On the other
hand, Hubert’s drug dealing is only glimpsed in
one scene; elsewhere, we see him giving money
to his mother for food, and to pay for his sister’s
books. He deals hash to help his family; and
the film-makers do not judge him for this. The
scene in which he makes a transaction is done
very matter-of-factly and the audience does not
even hear the conversation between Hubert
and his customer because the audio highlights
the conversation of Hubert’s friends, who are
standing in the background of the shot. Dealing
is seen as just a typical fact of life rather than
dangerous or immoral.
21 MediaMagazine | February 2011 | english and media centre
Diversity and Identity
City of God’s focus is mainly on black youths.
The favelas were initially created to house freed
slaves, and therefore black people are massively
over-represented in this setting. On the other
hand, La Haine emphasises racial hybridity with
the three protagonists being of Arab, Jewish
and African descent. The characters all refer to
each other with racial banter; in La Haine the
three friends refer to each other’s ethnicities
continually. It is argued that people from ethnic
minorities often do this to celebrate their
difference from the rest of society and also to
give them a sense of belonging within their own
A defining characteristic of these ghetto
cultures is their antagonism towards the police.
The representation of the police in both films is
almost entirely negative. In City of God the police
are corrupt; they:
stand by and watch the slaughter, only
intervening to collect their pay-offs
They sell guns to gangsters, shoot suspects on
sight (including an innocent youth on his way
to school), steal money and drugs from dealers
and are never seen helping anyone. In La Haine,
police brutality is witnessed when two of the
protagonists are taken into police custody and
tortured. One youth is also hospitalised due to
english and media centre | February 2011 | MediaMagazine
his treatment by the police; and this propels
the narrative, with one of the protagonists, Vinz,
declaring that he will kill a police officer with a
gun he has found if the youth in hospital dies.
The use of guns in the films is also interesting
to compare. In City of God, guns are everywhere;
gang members and even small children carry
firearms, ranging from pistols to Kalashnikovs,
bought from corrupt police. In one particularly
disturbing scene, children are cornered and shot;
gangs and the police face-off and have shootouts in the streets. On the other hand, in La
Haine there are only four guns in the whole film.
One character has found a pistol lost by a police
officer in the riots, and the hesitation over using
this gun leads to the devastating climax. Life is
not as cheap on these European streets as it is in
the Brazilian favelas.
Women are under-represented in both
these films, and often portrayed in a negative
light. They are both very masculine stories with
little time for female characters. La Haine, for
example, has been accused of:
ignoring women and for importing the
violence and nihilism of American gang
Women are the subjects of derision in the
film; the characters tease each other using ‘your
mother…’ and ‘your sister…’ jokes. In City of God,
however, women are a civilising influence, with
two male characters expressing a desire to settle
down and quit crime when in a relationship. It
is argued that the male characters in these films
are often emasculated and that this is the reason
for their behaviour and attitude to women. They
lack jobs, education or any reason to feel pride, so
they resort to carrying guns and insulting women
to make themselves feel like men.
22 MediaMagazine | February 2011 | english and media centre
City of God and La Haine have very different
visual styles. Both use the mise-en-scène of
real locations to add to the realism of the
films. However, La Haine uses black and white
cinematography to enhance this realism by
linking it with the real footage from news reports
shown in the opening credits. City of God begins
with bright colour (to represent the Sixties and
Seventies) but as the narrative progresses, the
colours become duller as the concrete trappings
of urban development take over. Handheld
camera is used throughout City of God
enhancing the documentary feel, whereas La
Haine features more steadicam movement with
long flowing shots following characters through
The editing also adds to the restlessness of the
camera in City of God, with lots of quick cutting
and speeding up of footage. La Haine, on the
other hand, favours shots with a longer duration
and the editing is less choppy than in City of
God. This emphasises the idea that life is fast in
the favelas, whereas life is boring in les banlieues.
However tension is created by using a number
of ‘explosive’ cuts at the beginning of La Haine.
The image cuts, for example, on Vinz pretending
to shoot a gun at his mirror image and hitting a
boxing bag. The sound of a gunshot is used on
each of these cuts.
Music is also incredibly important in both
films; the samba beat, funk and soul in City of
God and hip hop in La Haine. Both examples
use music to give a strong sense of time and
place, and help create a sense of identity for the
The two films contain many similarities;
the iconography of the crime film, the miseen-scène of poverty, characters from ethnic
minorities living in poor and dangerous
conditions. They both feature antagonism
towards the police, a lack of women in major
roles, drug dealing and violence. Their settings
may range from Europe to South America, but
the social conditions faced by young people from
ethnic minorities in these ghetto cultures seem
worryingly constant. Power is abused, people
in poverty are angry, and conflict ensues. The
films bring harsh social realities to the screen in
(broadly) educational and visually exciting ways
with interesting characters, thrilling narratives
and differing styles all packing a punch for
Film Studies students… even those who hate
Pete Turner teaches Film and Media at Bracknell and
Wokingham College and is undertaking a PhD in Film
Studies at Oxford Brookes University.
Muir, S. (2008): Studying City of God
Stafford, R. (2000): York Film Notes ‘La Haine’
Kevin Elstob: Review of La Haine in Film
Quarterly Vol. 51, No. 2 (Winter, 1997-98)
Gilligan, M. (2006): http://www.metamute.org/
Johnston, S. (1995): http://www.independent.
Images credit Image.net
Social Historical and Political
Below is a list of contextual factors, try to comment on their relevance to the
film and how you read it.
Social, historical and political Contexts
The projects or, les banlieues:
Les banlieues are satellite ‘new towns’ (for which read housing estates for the
poor) up to twenty miles out of Paris that almost seem designed to keep the
poor out of the middle-class centre of the city
The ‘new town’ in which La Haine was filmed had at the time an official
population of 10,000 made up of sixty different nationalities or ethnicities
These are stereotyped in the media as places of urban deprivation crime and
The French Empire and Imperialism...
France was a major colonial power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
with colonies in Africa, the Carribean and Sout-East Asia.
The struggle for independence was particularly bitter in some countries such
as Algeria (which gained independence in 1962) and Vietnam (where the
French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954).
Some colonies, like Martinique, remain and are able to send representatives
to the French Assembley. Other former colonies, like Senegal, remain closely
linked to France and French culture.
French policy towards non – white ethnic groups has always been on of
‘assimilation’ with people being expected to take on French cultural norms
and values. Many Algerians, Moroccans Tunisians, in particular, who went to
France to work during the 1960s, have to a greater or lesser extent resisted
Maintaining the purity of the French language both at home and abroad was
given a much higher priority than the British gave to upholding the English
usage in their colonies
Verlan, or ‘backslang’, began around Paris in the 1980s, among second
generation ethnic minority young people who saw themselves as positioned
between their parents’ culture and French culture.
Immigration was limited by the French government during the economic crisis
of the early 1970s.
Fascist far-right groups (as in many other European countries during the
period) have consistently blamed unemployment on immigrants.
In the 1980s the National Front began to win some local elections and even
parliamentary seats, especially in South and Southwest France.
Those who administered Vichy France during the Second World War
collaborated in sending French Jews to the concentration camps
Kassovitz’ father (who himself fled Hungary in 1956) was the son of a
concentration camp survivor.
The Police and Racism
Racism (as in the UK) has been seen to be a particular problem in the police
There are two main police groups in the film: the neighbourhood plain clothes
police and the riot police
There were over 300 deaths in police custody or from police action from 1980
to 1995 when the film was made
M ake notes of relevance to representations in ‘La Haine’.
Six Important Scenes
Scene description 1:
Why is it important?
Scene description 2:
Why is it important::
Scene description 3:
Why is it important:
Six Important Scenes
Scene description 4:
Why is it important?
Scene description 5:
Why is it important::
Scene description 6:
Why is it important:
Social and Historical Context
Below is an article taken from the Guardian newspaper illustrating that this
problem is still relevant ten years on.
Highlight and annotate it showing its relevance to the film
Riots continue in Paris suburbs
Staff and agencies
Wednesday November 2, 2005
French police clash with youths as vehicles are torched in riots at Aulnay-sous-Bois, near Paris.
Photograph: Travers/Le Floch/EPA
Violent clashes between police and immigrant groups in the suburbs around Paris
have continued for the sixth consecutive night with scores of cars set alight and
nearly three dozen people arrested overnight, officials said today.
Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets at advancing gangs of youths in Aulnay-sousBois - one of the worst-hit suburbs - where 15 cars were burned. Youths lobbed
molotov cocktails at an annex to the town hall and threw stones at the fire station,
despite appeals for calm yesterday from the French prime minister, Dominique de
Officials gave an initial count of 69 vehicles destroyed in nine suburbs across the
Seine-Saint-Denis region to the north and north-east of Paris. The area, which is
home mainly to families of immigrant origin, most from Muslim north Africa, is
marked by soaring unemployment and social unrest.
The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, told Europe-1 radio that police detained 34
people overnight. Mr Sarkozy - blamed by many for fanning the violence with
uncompromising language and harsh tactics - defended his approach and vowed to
The rioting began on Thursday after two teenagers, aged 15 and 17, were fatally
electrocuted and a third injured in a power substation. There have been claims,
denied by officials, that they where were hiding to escape from police.
Mr Sarkozy caused uproar by calling the rioters "scum" and continued to defend his
stance in an interview in today's Le Parisien newspaper in which he said the current
policy dealing with poor immigrant communities had failed.
"The reigning order is too often the order of gangs, drugs, traffickers. The
neighbourhoods are waiting for firmness but also justice.... and jobs," he told the
An Associated Press news team witnessed confrontations between about 20 police
and 40 youths in Aulnay-sous-Bois with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Officials said that "small, very mobile gangs" were harassing police as well as setting
fire to rubbish bins and vehicles throughout the region.
Yesterday, Mr de Villepin met the parents of the three teenagers, promising a full
investigation of the deaths and insisting on "the need to restore calm", the prime
minister's office said.
Despite that, tension continued to mount after young men torched cars, garbage bins
and even a primary school the night before. Scores of cars were reported burned on
Monday night in Clichy-sous-Bois, and 13 people were detained.
Youths set two rooms of a primary school in Sevran on fire on Monday along with
several cars, the mayor, Stephane Gatignon, said in a statement.
Mr Sarkozy's handling of the situation has been criticised within the conservative
government. The equal opportunities minister, Azouz Begag, said he "contests this
method of becoming submerged by imprecise, warlike semantics".
For three decades, successive governments have injected funds and launched
projects but failed to improve the lives of many marginalised communities in
World news guide
List how these social issues are represented in ‘La Haine’.
Questions that La Haine Poses/Answers
How do you think that the film attempts an answer to these questions through
What is there for people to do on the estate?
What are the causes of crime?
How does society feel about minority groups?
What is the result of police brutality?
Does the government do enough for people in the working class and estate
What impact can political figures have on society?
Consider how these social issues are represented in ‘La Haine’.
Make comments below:
Reviews of La Haine
Using this review answer the following questions (do this by highlighting and
annotating the reviews):
What were the different scenes identified in the comments? What was it
about these scenes that the viewer particularly enjoyed or disliked?
What did the comments say about the story of the film? Was the subject
matter something that the viewer could relate to?
What was said about the stylistic elements of the film?
Was the director mentioned, and if so, what was said about the directors style
of film making and their other films
Do the viewer comments tell you anything about the target audience for the
What did you find out about the historical context (how the film relates to the
time in Paris when it was shot) of the film?
Author: Bogey Man from Finland
La Haine aka Hate is a story about three friends living near Paris in France (one
Jew, one Arab and one black) who have nothing special in their lives and try to live a
day at a time by drinking and having a good time and also working (at least the black
character, who owns a boxing hall). Their friend, however, is captured by a police
which tortures and maltreats him so badly that he is sent to a hospital in a critical
condition. This makes the youth gangs in city including the three protagonists start a
war against the police and authorities for the horrible wrongs they and their friend
have suffered, and suddenly they notice the whole society is collapsing, and all there
is is hate and need to revenge...Violence and mayhem is almost everywhere,
including authorities which should do nothing but fight against it..
This film is powerful and grim. Totally unforgettable is the last scene which at my first
viewing time blew me away. It comes very suddenly and there are no warnings what
will happen at the end of this film. The message is so important and these marks of
the "apocalypse" can be found in our everyday life everywhere. The society is falling
and it is "spinning" as the voice over says just before the end credits..The film brings
into question such horrific facts as racism which should have passed away long
times ago, but no. Racism is such a primitive, stupid and despisable cancer among
people, that there is no hope of better future if individuals don't understand the real
facts of life and right ways to live with each other. Hate feeds hate as the character
Hubert says, and that is something that our stupid race has not learned.
There is one very powerful scene just before the end scene and it deals with a
skinhead and these three characters who could kill him right away and pay
something back. It is very challenging scene and even Vinz, the most revenge
seeking character, starts to see things different way after that. The whole point of La
Haine is violence in all its forms. Why there is violence and why the hell it is used so
often everywhere in every form? Don't we ever learn? These kind of films are
important and so powerful that unfortunately people who should see them don't want
to or they can't because it would be as a mirror for them..
The film is also a comment on power used by police as they are pretty tough and
hard in this film. Police think that they can use any methods in order to get some
answers, or in order to have some fun..It certainly doesn't judge police as "pigs" or
violent sadists in general, but it is a warning example of what must NOT happen
anywhere ever, by police or by others. One has to see through the film and to its
core in order to understand what it says. Otherwise there is no point in watching
these kind of films. La Haine is that kind of a film that it should be seen by police and
youths as well, because there are still possibilities to prevent things to go too far in
our life and world we live in.
The camera techniques used in this film are magnificent. Director/screenwriter
Mathieu Kassovitz uses camera so smoothly and passionately and there are many
similarities in techniques between this film and his more recent, Assassin(s). I am
very happy for this young talent to have won the director's award at Cannes. These
kind of talents deserve their prizes because there are so many stupid and worthless
films which don't have nothing artistic in them and have nothing to say, and are just
mindless and greedy entertainment. The black and white is very great element and
the film strikes greatly without colors. The same case is with the Belgian classic Man
Bites Dog, by Remy Belvaux, Benoit Poelvoorde and Andre Bonzel.
A great masterpiece in French modern cinema and recommended for the fans of
intelligent and important cinema so seldom found from big studios or Hollywood
(there are exceptions, of course) nowadays.
Consider how American Culture dominates the characters lifestyle
Consider how Other Cultures influence the characters lifestyle.
Consider how French Culture influences the characters lifestyle
Think about the representation of Youth, Gender, Ethnicity and Place
Scene description 1:
Scene description 2:
Scene description 3:
Scene description 3:
The Tension of “La Haine”
There is a formal struggle in Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995) between unflinching
realism and filmic self-consciousness. Much has been made of the picture’s sociological
importance but an awareness of its cultural implications should not cloud an appreciation of
its sophisticated construction.
The film presents a day in the life of three youths in an unidentified Parisian slum. It begins
with black-and-white documentary footage of real riots and starts, as a result, with a feel of
historical authenticity. The cinematographic choice to shoot in a similar black-and-white look
seems to bind the film proper to the stock footage with which it opens: on the one hand, the
fiction of La Haine is allowed the authority of history. The story begins the day after a riot in
which a police inspector’s gun has gone missing: on the other hand, then, history fills in
narrative blanks, as the tumult recorded in the stock footage acts as a surrogate for the
fictional riot that we are not allowed to see.
The narrative is full of similar holes, as well as tedious stories, dead-ends and unfunny jokes:
it appears as uneven as life. Take, for example, when, sat killing time in a park, a young boy
tells Vinz (Vincent Cassel) a story about a celebrity who’s been set up for the television show
Candid Camera. The tale crescendos as the celebrity tries “to act cool” but, as he gets more
uneasy, inevitably “starts ranting at [a] guy”. Finally, the story climaxes only in a bathetic
petering out: “They start fighting and the Candid Camera guys have to break it up.” “Then
what?” “That’s all.” “Who was the celebrity?” “Dunno, but he was real famous. I don’t
remember.” Later, Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) ruins a potentially funny joke by over-telling it. He
begins, “Heard the one about the nun?” He recounts how a drunken man, leaving a bar,
comes across a nun in a long black cape. He starts beating her up and, after about five
minutes, finally says “You’re not so tough, Batman!” The comedy is defused when Saïd
exclaims, after a brief pause, “He thought the nun was Batman!” Vinz rounds off the
deadening by saying, “I heard it was a rabbi.”
The film ends with what feels like a true to life stroke, when it is Vinz and not a policeman
that is shot. Throughout the film we are allowed to see Vinz enacting (in his head) the desire
to shoot a “pig”. His fantasy is to avenge the death of his friend Abdel Ichaha who dies at the
hands of police brutality. He shouts at Hubert (Hubert Koundé) that he’s learnt from the
streets: “Turn the other cheek: you’re a dead motherfucker!” When, though, he is handed a
skinhead to kill (one apparently worthy of death, as Hubert antagonises him, screaming,
“There are good cops. But the only good skinhead is a dead skinhead!”), he finds he cannot.
He knows he’s not a gangster. Neither does he die a glamorous death: he is shot only because
a gun goes off by accident. It is a realistically unflattering end to a head that was filled with
But his blood runs on the pavement black not red. While the black-and-white cinematography
may appear to lend a sense of authenticity to the picture, it instead creates a distance between
the film and real-life and places it in the realm of self-conscious cinema. There are references
to colour throughout the picture that jolt the viewer and make her aware of its absence. Vinz,
talking about the riots of the previous night, says, “It was war against the pigs, in living
colour!” If colour is a sign of life, then the decision to shoot La Haine in black-and-white
separates it from reality. In a shop, buying peppers for his grandma, Vinz does not have
enough money for the green ones, only the red, which she hates. As the viewer sees Vinz and
the shopkeeper argue over the peppers, all uniformly grey, she begins to feel that, if
everything were in colour, if there was some hope, everything would be fine. The world of La
Haine becomes painfully black and white; the absence of colour is felt.
There are also references to filmic conventions and tropes that feel specifically placed in the
mouths of the characters to emphasise their roles as created puppets. Saïd asks one man,
“What’s with the hair net? […] You a movie star?” High and stuck in Paris over night, he
claims, “I’ll switch off the Eiffel Tower”, before being told by the rest of the trio, “That only
works in movies.” As Vinz tries to express his anger at the police, he mimics Travis Bickle
(Robert De Niro) from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), turning the originally cool
psychopathy into a grotesquely distorted face:
These references feel metatextual only at the level of the scriptwriter (also Kassovitz): they
serve to remind the viewer that La Haine is a film, not a documentary, and the characters are
not allowed to know. As the trio turn away from the Eiffel Tower and leave frame left, the
shot lingers for a second, empty. Suddenly, the Tower begins to turn off but Vinz, Saïd and
Hubert are not there to see it.
Kassovitz creates a dream-like world in which normal social and physical rules do not apply,
in which the Eiffel Tower will turn off at a command. Hubert’s boxing gym has been trashed
and left in pieces early in the film; there’s even a car that’s been deserted inside. Throughout
the picture, Saïd wonders, “How’d the car get in here? The doorway’s not big enough.” His
questions go unnoticed by the others but they niggle the viewer because they remain
unanswered. How can a car get in through doors that are too small? Vinz’s repeated
references and visions of a cow border on the surreal. As the viewer sees his fantasies enacted
on screen throughout the film, the image of a cow walking down a street lends no certainty to
his claims to truth. The question of the nature of the cow – real animal or phantom – remains
The cinematography also strengthens the dream-like (or nightmarish) aesthetic of the
surreal. When Hubert is first presented to the viewer he is shirtless in his gym, punching a
lone black boxing bag that hangs from the ceiling, surrounded by the debris of the recent
The tone of the scene is uncompromisingly dark. The regular thud of his blows ominously
preempts his presence: we hear before we see. The viewer follows the enigmatic sound and,
when she finds Hubert, he is shot in slow motion. Such a presentation lends a rhythmical
quality to his training: the brutality of boxing is moved closer to the elegance of dancing. The
local temporality is uncertain: the viewer is left wondering how long Hubert has been training
and how long he will go on. The viewer is similarly sent following sounds later in the film,
when a DJ plays music at the top floor of a block of flats. The camera starts beside the decks
inside the room but, as the music begins, it slowly floats out the window, hovering far above
the street and extending into the sky. We’re allowed to fly, for a time.
Such transcendence, physically represented in this ethereal flying, is hinted at near the start of
the film. After the documentary footage, the viewer is presented with a shot of the globe. The
enormous circle fills the frame and is accompanied by a voice unattached to a body, uttering
“so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter: it’s how you land.” A molotov cocktail falls in
slow motion towards the world and fire erupts on impact. It feels like a sort of visual
epigraph, hinting at an allegorical significance: the entire world, ending in flames, is what
opens this picture. The movement from a larger orb to a smaller one, from the globe to Saïd’s
head, like the opening scene of American Beauty (1999), smash cutting from an aerial view
of the town to Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) in bed, invites the viewer to attribute to this
particular narrative a universal significance: it suggests similar stories go on throughout the
But La Haine is inextricably rooted in the unique environment of the banlieues and a reading
of the film as a universal allegory is consistently frustrated (though never totally shut off).
The opening sequence, for example, is tethered to the specific slum of the film: the shot of
the world turns out to be only a frayed poster stuck to a wall. These posters, appearing all
over the city and apparently advertising optimistic outward reaching (they say “the world is
yours”), in fact reinforce the walls that surround the characters. When Saïd spray paints one
of these images, changing the tag line to “the world is ours”, it feels less like an affirmation
of the poster’s sentiment and instead a grim realisation that his world, the banlieue, is
inescapable. The voice that accompanies the image of the globe feels like the omniscient
presence of a narrator. Similarly, though, it is soon tied to the specifics of this story: the
aphoristic anecdote (“How you fall doesn’t matter: it’s how you land”) is put into the mouth
of Hubert, the only character of the trio that openly expresses a desire to escape (“I have to
get out; I have to leave this place ”). His mother knows what these wishes achieve and only
says: “if you see a grocery, buy me a lettuce.”
La Haine breeds tension. There is a struggle between apparent realism and filmic selfconsciousness; the narrative hints at a universal application, while frustrating a reading that
moves away from the specifics of the banlieue and, most sadly, the characters’ pretensions
(Vinz’s murderous fantasies or Hubert’s escape, for example) are stripped away as the picture
progresses. These tensions are unresolved and it is fitting that there is no real sense of
conclusion: as the viewer is only allowed to hear the shot, when Hubert and the policeman
are at gunpoint, she does not know who is killed. She knows though that someone has been
shot and this knowledge not only diminishes the emotional power of Vinz’s death, as one
follows another so quickly, but also invokes a feeling of social stagnation: the narrative does
not conclude because the situation continues (effectively) unchanged. Equally, Hubert’s first
words are echoed at the end: “How you fall doesn’t matter: it’s how you land.” The cyclic
pattern this repetition suggests is paralleled in the microcosm of a single line, again from
Hubert. When arguing with Vinz, he warns him simply that “hate breeds hate.”
Stylistic Features – Micro Elements
Glue your sheets in here
Consider – Other Urban Stories and make a list of similar conventions.
Consider – How ‘’La Haine’ references other films and why? List below.
Consider – How far ‘La Haine’ differs from other Urban Stories?
1. What does ‘La Haine’ say about the power relations within French culture and the
community that the characters inhabit?
2. How far is poverty in ‘La Haine’ considered as a social and cultural problem?
3. What do Vinz, Hubert and Said consider to be the central conflict in their lives?
How true is their perception?
4. To what extent are conflicts and power struggles resolved in the film? Refer to
key sequences in your response.
5. What are the central themes of the film? Are they universal themes that could have been
addressed by a film made in the UK or the USA?
La Haine was shot in Black and White, arguably giving it a ‘documentary’ feel – how does this
add to (or detract from) the content of the film?
Would you say that Kassovitz could be called an auteur? Can you see a ‘directorial signature’
through mise en scene and other micro elements?
Consider the use of camera movement, editing, lighting and sound. How have these
elements been used and to what extend are you familiar with the way these techniques have been