by Veronica Stone
La Haine is a 1995 French drama written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. The story takes place in a 24-hour span and centers around three friends living in the ghetto-suburbs of Paris, known as the banlieue. The film deals with France’s issues with racism, social segregation, post-colonialism and police brutality, just to name a few. Kassovitz wrote the script in light of several riots and protests that occurred in France between 1986 and 1993, in response to the wrongful deaths of young men at the hands of the police.
While the film’s subject matter is obviously still very in tune with today’s problems, it’s the film’s “attention to spatiality” that plays a key part in La Haine. The boundaries between the urban and the suburban are both geographical and social.
The film opens the day after a riot between the youths of the projects and the police force, during which the protagonists’ friend was severely beaten. What follows is “a day in the life” of Vinz, of Jewish descent, Saïd, of Arab descent, and Hubert, of African descent. All three come from different ethnic backgrounds, but they are linked by their shared alienation and “underclass” social status in French society. The film deals with the concept of ’banlieue youth’ becoming inherently synonymous with poverty, crime and arrested social development. In the film, the three youths spend half of their day in the suburbs, which are portrayed as being inhabited by a vibrant community who doesn’t dwell on racial differences and is completely outcast from the city life.
Police enforcement is a constant and menacing presence, as the youths are publicly held responsible for the decaying physical and social state of the banlieues, in the eyes of the French government. For the rest of the film, they are literally stuck in Paris, after missing their train home, while being held at the police station. Out here in “the real world,” they are constant targets of racial stigmatization because of their cultural and social ‘otherness’. They are out of place and persecuted by the police, as well as a neo-Nazi youth group. They are also ridiculed by the middle and upper classes of Parisian society.
It’s interesting to note the dramatic changes that the suburbs around Paris have been subjected to over the course of the decades. The banlieue was once used to connote the pristine, white middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods around Paris. It is now, more often than not, seen as a highly charged word used to describe a hyper-masculine, violent space, saturated with delinquency, social unrest, gangs, drugs, and random mayhem. Media manipulation also plays a big part in the film, as this is how these “ghettos” are seen in the eyes of the dominant class. Yet, what Kassovitz intends to portray in La Haine is “living in harmony” by overlooking boundaries of race, culture, and ethnic heritage, by means of what could be considered the glorification of multiethnic urban youth culture. The film is also filled with references to popular American culture and hip-hop music, which could be seen as having become the most popular means through which the youth can voice their demands for cultural and ethnic recognition.
There were more riots and uprisings in France in 2005, ten years after La Haine debuted. At the time, there was a very famous debate between Kassovitz and Nicolas Sarkozy. In one of his replies, Kassovitz stated, “Hate has kindled hate for centuries and yet Sarkozy still thinks that repression is the only way to prevent rebellion. We need to reeducate people, and not manipulate them. The dissension between forces of law and order and the suburbs’ young people is a deep-rooted problem, which can only be solved by serious effort to educate both parties.” This quote perfectly sums up, in my opinion, Kassovitz’s message in the film.
Overall, La Haine is a film that portrays a youth culture that has nothing to do: no jobs, no money, no hopes of economic independence and no prospects. Yet, this automatically makes them, in the eyes of society, bad, violent, criminals and a menace to the apparent peace. They have been singled out due to their economic and ethnic background; and with the way that they are treated by the police and the government, they respond, even if unwillingly.
Regardless of the film’s spatial setting and release date, with all of the hate and violence here, in the States, during the past couple of weeks, months and years, La Haine resonates more than ever. Its message that hate only generates more hate is something that we should all keep in mind.