20 years after it first released and became a phenomenon, we finally watched French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s award-winning film La Haine. Here is what I learned.
- You can make a perfectly fabulous and impactful film with little or no music in it.
I didn’t realise until almost halfway into the film that there was no background score. It didn’t make a bit of difference to the experience, in fact it might have made it more impactful. That is not to say there is no music at all – it’s just that it is diegetic.
- Casting is everything.
Saïd Taghmaoui’s wide eyed enthusiasm, Vincent Cassel’s coiled intensity or Hubert Koundé’s quiet watchfulness – we are with the three leads throughout the film, essentially just watching them go about their day. Such an almost stream-of-consciousness approach is very easy to get wrong but in the able hands of the three leads it makes us believe that we are part of events as they unfold.
- Director Mathieu Kassovitz’s filmmaking is confident and accomplished.
Even for a set-in-gritty-reality film like this, he finds moments for special effects. His touch with them is so light that you notice, if you’re into that kind of stuff, but it never takes you out of the story. A good example – the way the name ‘Hubert’ lights up on the poster in the boxing room just before we meet Cousin Hubert for the first time. Oh, and he was only 27 years old when he made the film.
- Do it right and your film will never feel dated.
Sounds kind of obvious, but it’s worth trying to figure out why this film, now 20 years old, feels like it could have been made yesterday. It’s a combination of the subject matter (sadly, still relevant today), the performances (uninhibited and visceral), and the visual styling (ambitious, impressive and giving no sign of being limited by technology available in the mid-Nineties).
- You can make a film about an explosive, violent and hard-hitting reality without using a heavy hand or becoming preachy.
I put off watching this film for at least a decade because the synopsis always made it sound really grim. It just never felt like the right time. When I eventually watched it, I was surprised at how much life and humour runs through the core of the story. It’s not pretty, but it is wonderfully alive.
- Details are everything.
Some of the best parts of La Haine are in the tiny details that seem almost throwaway – the rock/paper/scissors interaction between Vinz and Saïd; the running gag of telling pointless stories; the double-finger name ring that Vinz wears (I would pay good money to buy that piece of merch); the episode in the art gallery. This would come under the ‘flavour’ umbrella, and it was very tasty.
- Cinema and society go together.
No matter how many superhero movies wish that you would forget that.
- Chekhov’s Gun is a thing.
The original guideline states – if there is a gun in the story, it should fire at some point. This is expanded to include any element that you draw attention to in a film – a thing like a letter, a suitcase, a phone call or even a person. In the case of this film, it is an actual gun. Unfortunately, it does fire.
- The soundtrack is a thing of beauty.
The scene with DJ Cut Killer alone is worth the price of admission and it is just one of the filmmaker’s many visual flourishes on this movie.
- This is one of those movies where something is happening until the very last minute. And the way it ties in with the central theme of the film — “jusqu’ici tout va bien” — is powerful and heartbreaking in equal measure.