The scene is set with opening shots of TV footage, a newsreader reporting on recent stories of police abuse and riots between French youths and the cops.
The time is 1995, the place the suburbs of France.
Said (Said Taghmaoui, HIDALGO; THREE KINGS) wanders across the rough estate he lives on to visit his dope-dealing friend Vinz (Vincent Cassel, IRREVERSIBLE; BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF).
Vinz lives in a poor flat with his younger sister and his gran. He is louder and more extrovert than Said. He also likes to imitate Travis Bickle in the privacy of his own bedroom (cue very funny and well-shot mirror scene as Cassel goes through the "You talking to me?" routine).
Said and Vinz go to visit their mutual friend Hubert (Hubert Kounde, THE CONSTANT GARDENER) at the gym he acquired a couple of days earlier. Hubert, an aspiring boxer, stands in the centre of the gym punching away at a punchbag. The gym itself has been virtually destroyed by arsonists. When asked by Vinz and Said who burnt the place down, Hubert remains philosophical - he doesn't want to know who did it. It's enough to know that it was bound to happen one day, living on such a downtrodden estate.
The three friends spend their day aimlessly wandering their estate bored, conducting the odd drug deal, attending an impromptu rooftop barbecue (and subsequently being shifted by the police - look out for Phillipe Nahon [I STAND ALONE; SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE] as the copper), and dropping in on acquaintances to pass the time.
Time being one of the key factors of this film. The time is given in digital format every now and then onscreen, to guide us through this very typical day for our three misfits.
Throughout the day, the friends banter endlessly, mainly through boredom. Their conversation mostly moves between dissing the cops that monitor their estate and slating all other forms of authority in general. Vinz, in particular, is incensed by the fact a friend of his, Abdel, has been recently hospitalised by violent cops. He shows his disdain by speaking of his wish to kill the cops responsible, and throwing missiles at a TV crew curious to learn more of the assault.
Through such conversations, we learn that a policeman lost his gun during recent riots. Vinz confides in Hubert and Said, showing them that he has the gun in question.
Hubert is initially enraged by this, and distances himself from his friends. But, following a visit to the hospital in the hope of seeing Abdel, and Vinz's boast that if Abdel dies he WILL shoot a cop, the friends are brought together again as darkness falls at the end of the day and the cops come into the neighbourhood to clash with it's angry inhabitants.
LA HAINE, filmed in 1995 in stark black and white, is a masterpiece. It is raw, edgy, energetic filmmaking on amphetamines.
The photography is stunning, the editing crisp and slick, the camerawork imaginative and constantly jaw-dropping in execution, the performances honest and affecting, and the pace is as catchy as the hip hop music that graces the soundtrack.
Although a little heavy-handed in it's political motivations, LA HAINE remains hugely enjoyable and at equal turns amusing and tragic - and is just as potent today with it's social commentary as it was 11 years ago. There's a scary thought.
Cassel burns with charisma throughout as loose cannon Vinz, a likeable rogue who has an obvious sweet side to him despite his gangsta-wannabe exterior. But it's Kounde who impresses the most, with his restrained take on the older-but-wiser friend trying to find a way out.
At times, the characters seem a little hackneyed and it is easy to draw comparisons to films like BOYZ N THE HOOD, MENACE TO SOCIETY etc ... but LA HAINE outclasses them all on every technical level, despite it's relatively miniscule budget. Also, it's comments on the state of France - and it's relevance bearing in mind recent events over there - make it a much more formidable beast to consider.
Just don't expect a happy ending!
This Special Edition package from Optimum features the uncut film in a superb, sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. It looks fantastic, more detailed than ever before.
The original French soundtrack is offered in both 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. The latter is immensely satisfying, with every beefy hip hop bassline hitting home hard. Removable English subtitles are at hand for the French-illiterate.
As well as the film, disc 1 serves up a feature-length commentary from talented writer/director Mathieu Kassovitz (GOTHIKA; CRIMSON RIVERS). He is understandably proud and enthusiastic when reminiscing over the shoot of his breakthrough movie. Very high acclaim is rightly poured upon his young cast.
Next we have six minutes' worth of scenes shown in colour, as they were originally shot. These are quite interesting for completists, I guess.
Two short "Behind The Scenes" featurettes follow, offering cast and crew musings on location. These last a total of 12 minutes between them.
Two original trailers do a good job of making LA HAINE look as essential as it truly is.
Finally for disc 1, are a couple of trailers for other titles - including the equally brilliant AMORES PERROS.
Disc 2 is taken up with a superb 115 minute retrospective documentary on LA HAINE that draws in almost everyone involved in the making of it, to reflect on what sounds like an occasionally gruelling shoot as the cast and crew actually lived on tough estate for authenticity. Taghmaoui is notable in his absence, which is a minor shame.
By and large though it's a great insight into the making of a small film that has made a massive impact throughout the last decade, thanks to it's raw comedy, tragedy and expertly executed dramatics. Removable English subtitles are again available.
The packaging includes a nice 12 page booklet with decent liner notes from Keith Reader.
Although not available for this screening, I understand there is limited packaging - a steel tin case - and even a third disc as part of this "Ultimate" edition, containing the film's soundtrack in CD format. So, come this release on 5 June 2006, it looks like being pretty definitive.
The extras on disc 1 have been available previously. But with improved subtitles, a feature-length new documentary on disc 2 and the soundtrack on CD ... this is one to buy.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Optimum|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|