La Haine review: Classic French drama on police violence is ‘more relevant than ever’

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Despite its initial release being a quarter of a century ago, La Haine remains an incendiary and vital piece of cinema.

Set on the divided and violent suburbs of Paris, La Haine (or 'Hate' in English) follows three close friends from immigrant families amidst a period of turmoil in the French capital, which has evolved out of the recent hospitalisation of the young Abdel Ichach.

The trio are made up of the fiery young Jewish man Vinz, his outspoken North-African Muslim friend Saïd, and African-French boxer Hubert who is longing to escape his situation and is more aware than most that “hate breeds hate”.

The film charts 12 hours in the lives of the group of friends in the aftermath of violent riots in Paris as they wander and live their lives on the streets, face up to bitter relationships between local communities and their own different approaches to their situations.

(L-R) Vincent Cassel, Saïd Taghmaoui, Hubert Koundé in La Haine
(Image: BFI)

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Filmed in a gorgeous black-and-white palette with artistic shots of its cast and harsh urban setting by cinematographer Pierre Aïm, director Mathieu Kassovitz taps into anti-police sentiment, racial divisions, and the cyclical nature of violence in French society, themes that have been powerful since and feel all the more resonant now.

Whether it is immersive aerial shots of the streets set to French rap group Assassin's track "Nique La Police" or Vinz's re-enacting Travis Bickle's mirror 'You talking to me?' speech in his bathroom, Kassovitz takes his audience with him on this brittle but often comic journey through his protagonists' lives.

The central performance have lost none of their impact 25 years on
(Image: BFI)

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The cast is also made of three fiery breakthrough performances. Vincent Cassel delivers the richest performance as the performatively bloodthirsty Vinz, who finds himself forced into a spot where he must act on his words of righteous anger.

Meanwhile, Saiid Taghmaoui delivers delicious humour and deadpan assessments as the peacemaker of the group, while Hubert Koundé delivers a haunted serenity and realism as the one most fatigued by his station in a corrupt society.

The final scenes of the film linger long in the memory
(Image: BFI)

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Events build to a bloody and shocking finale that has been emulated in films of similar subject matter since, including the recent Cannes favourite Les Miserables.

However, this indictment of societal injustice in the suburbs of Paris remains a landmark piece of World Cinema that has only gotten more gorgeous with his 4K re-mastering from the British Film Institute.

Verdict

La Haine remains an incendiary, insightful, and vital piece of cinema decades after its original release and remains more relevant than ever. Its lead actors, including Vincent Cassel, also deliver some of French Cinema's most memorable turns.

La Haine returns to UK cinemas for its 25th anniversary with a new 4K restoration from September 11, 2020 as part of the BFI Southbank season REDEFINING REBELLION.

Have you seen La Haine before? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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