La Haine (1995)

“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!”

‘La Haine’, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz in 1995, is a French drama starring Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui. Cassel, in his breakthrough role, plays Vinz, an angry, disenfranchised young man who plays out scenes from ‘Taxi Driver’ whilst fantasising about killing police officers. With his two friends: the older Hubert, played by Koundé and the wayward Sayid, played by Taghmaoui, he intimidates a housing project in the suburbs of Paris. The film follows the three as they roam the city, encounter gangsters and, finally, confront the police. It’s a strange combination of neo-realism (the city resembles the bombed out Rome in ‘Rome, Open City’) and fantasy, reminiscent of Lynne Ramsay’s ‘Ratcatcher’. The journey of the three friends through Paris is strangely picturesque, challenging the grim setting. Kassovitz manages to find nostalgia and beauty in unlikely areas, and the film is surprisingly humorous – the three main actors are completely believable, but their innocence exposes them to ridiculous situations. The ending is shocking, but this film’s reputation for realism seems to miss the moments of charm and wit throughout the movie. One scene in which the three gatecrash an art exhibition opening is particularly funny, albeit edged with a degree of threat. I was, oddly, tempted to think of a combination of ‘Withnail and I’ and ‘Killer of Sheep’, not a pairing I was expecting to make. It’s raw, believable but also a movie that manages to make the challenging living conditions in sections of Paris seem, at times, romantic.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in a double bill with ‘Killer of Sheep’ for a parallel depiction of people living in the rough bit of a city.

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