2016 Blind Spot: La Haine Review

When I was deciding which films to watch for this blind spot list, I wanted a few foreign language films to be on here and, considering the political climate when I made the list, along with thoughts of last years Girlhood still being in my head, I believed that La Haine would be a suitable choice for one of these films and after watching it, I have to say I was right.The film takes place the day after a riot in a housing project in the suburbs of Paris after one of the residents, Abdel, is attacked by police and put into a coma, following three of Abdel’s friends and fellow residents of the project, Vinz, Hubert and Said, as they wander around the estate, getting into conversations with people, seeing their family life, how they’re treated by the police and eventually into the centre of Paris. Structurally, this film does have a similar style to the early films of Richard Linklater but it’s in content where La Haine shows itself to be something unique and special. The main thing that works is that the film doesn’t condemn the lives of Vinz, Hubert and Said like other films would do. By narrowing the focus to these three and showing the rest of the projects through their eyes, we get a sense of how they live day to day and how difficult it is to escape the difficult situations they are living in and the poor conditions of the estate as there are no opportunities for them that don’t involve crime. This is especially true of Hubert, partly because he has a brother in prison and the only way him and his family can get vital goods for survival is to get them from a fence, but also due to him being a boxer and his gym gets burnt down during the riot, along with finding out that the local school was destroyed in the riot as well. The film never lets you forget the true nature of the lives of these characters and as such it doesn’t condemn them. The film also presents an even handed view of the police, which I didn’t expect going in. It could be very easy to demonise the police but here most of them are shown to just be people doing their jobs and don’t want to harm anyone and the ones that do harm people, notably the plainclothes officers in th centre of Paris, are presented as outliers and shows that their brutality is not justified in any way.

On an acting level the film is very impressive. The obvious standout is Vincent Cassel as Vinz, who fills the character with a great deal of righteous anger which makes sense considering what has happened but the performance shows how all consuming his anger is and how it is driving him to pick fights with people and gives him thoughts of murder and when we see later on in the film how he reacts when confronted with real violence and real consequences for his actions, Cassel delivers a powerhouse performance. Another great performance is seen from Said Taghmaoui as Said who gives a more understated performance, showing his character to be more of an observer to the events and being a great surrogate for the audience to understand what is going on in the film. Hubert Kounde meanwhile is easily the most sympathetic character. He makes it abundantly clear how much he wants to escape life on the estate and wants to be a good person but we see how the society around him is dragging him down and ensuring he cannot escape, he also does a good job showing the futility of the type of violence that Vinz espouses and how it will only make things worse in the long run as we see by the end of the film.

Overall, La Haine is a brilliant, powerful film that does a great job showing the way people live in the suburbs of Paris in a way that feels respectful of them, something which other films would fail at doing. The themes around the police treatment of minorities and the difficulty of escape are themes that are still relevant today in any country and it’s due to these themes, the strong writing and the excellent acting that La Haine still holds up.

My Rating: 5/5

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