Mathieu Kassovitz (The Crimson Rivers) took the film world by storm with La haine (Hate), a gritty, unsettling, and visually explosive look at racial and cultural volatility in modern-day France, specifically the low-income banlieues on Paris's outskirts. Aimlessly passing their days in the concrete environs of their dead-end suburbia, Vinz (Irreversible's Vincent Cassel), Hubert (The Constant Gardener's Hubert Koundé), and Saïd (Three Kings Saïd Taghmaoui) white, black, and Arab give human faces to France's immigrant and otherwise marginalized populations, their resentment at their situation simmering until it reaches a boiling point. A work of tough beauty, La haine is a landmark of contemporary French cinema and a gripping reflection of its country's ongoing identity crisis.
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The writing of the ending recalls the works of the Kurt Vonnegut, particularly his novel Breakfast of Champions. I will still stand by my provably false belief that Vonnegut cameos as the lonely drunk man, who even jumps onto the hood of a car at one point, mirroring a scene near the tail end of Breakfast, but I digress. The ethos presented in this book, also frequently found in the films of the Coen Brothers, regards the false reality presented in fiction, exemplified in this quote (not doing this to pad out I swear I feel it’s very pertinent):
“ I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.
As I approached my fiftieth birthday, I had become more and more enraged and mystified by the idiot decisions made by my countrymen. And then I had come suddenly to pity them, for I understood how innocent and natural it was for them to behave so abominably, and with such abominable results: They were doing their best to live like people invented in story books. This was the reason Americans shot each other so often: It was a convenient literary device for ending short stories and books.
Why were so many Americans treated by their government as though their lives were as disposable as paper facial tissues? Because that was the way authors customarily treated bit-part players in their madeup tales. And so on.”
(Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions)
Vinz learns his lesson. There is a promise of change. This insane, awful night taught Vinz the most important (and final) lesson of his life. Any other film would end right there. Of course, as hate breeds hate, a police officer that Vinz taunted earlier in the film, conveniently also from a rooftop, comes to satisfy his own conceived personal narrative. Knowingly or not, this officer is playing a role in the production of what he believes his life to be like. This is also exemplified in the interrogation of Hubert and Said by the corrupt policemen in Paris, who break from the act intermittently to teach a young recruit the ropes.
Two specific characters come to mind that break from this mindset. The first is the plainclothes officer that bails Said out of jail. He recognizes the narrative being created in his community and tries to shake our characters out of it, attempting to get them to recognize the reality of both sides. This explains why he takes such a dislike for Vinz, a character so caught up in the fantasy that he mimes the Taxi Driver speech in the mirror. This exact scene is subverted by the second character who seems to recognize the whole stage and wires of the situation, Said’s drug dealer, Asterix. Almost appearing as a character from another film entirely, Asterix immediately sees through Vinz’s gangster veneer and fittingly taunts him with a recreation of a scene from another Robert De Niro film, The Deer Hunter, famous for its russian roulette scene. The revelation that it was all a trick tries to show Vinz that this isn’t a film, he’s not the antihero or martyr he wants to be, and how that mindset is destroying every interaction he has through the film. Fittingly, Vinz dies in the least satisfying narrative way possible, shot accidentally by a bit character who last appeared roughly an hour prior, following the apparent resolution of the film.
At times the film is hard to watch because the plot frustrates the audience who cannot seem to maintain hope for any length of time before its dashed again. Yet the reality of racial discrimination in France cannot be denied - and Kassovitz confronts this reality head-on.