As I am writing this, there are protests taking place all across the globe against police brutality, stemming from the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis. There have been debates surrounding the racism and power of the Police in the United States and how the matters of police brutality should be dealt with on a wider scale.
However, what many people might not realize is this is a problem all across the world, one that has been affecting POC and those who reside in low-income neighborhoods.
As I was cycling the other day, I remember a few months before all of this took place, I watched a film which captivated me, but I somehow couldn’t understand the entire message behind it. Was it social commentary? What was the deeper meaning behind it? I realized now that this film was simply a telling of humanities issues, and without a doubt, still being relevant today.
The film in question is La Haine (1995) written and directed by a budding French filmmaker at the time, Mathieu Kassovitz. Kassovitz is best known for his many films such as Gothika, Amelie (Actor), Les Rivières Pourpres, and Le Bureau, which have garnered remarkable acclaim both home and abroad. Kassovitz wrote the film after following the case of a young Zairean man who was killed by police, which prompted him to write the first draft of La Haine. The movie received high praise even calling Kassovitz “The new [François]Truffaut” and “White Spike Lee”
The film centers around three young guys who are friends that live in a Banlieue or “Suburb” as we refer to them in English outside of Paris. It isn’t, however, the kind of suburb you’re thinking of. It is a cité, which is where the French government stuck thousands of immigrants from former French colonies in Northern and West Africa. Vinz (Vincent Cassell) a young white Jew, Said (Said Taghmaoui) an Arab, and Hubert (Hubert Koundé) a Black Boxer. The film tells the story of their “adventure” throughout the Banlieue and Paris, but also the frustrations they go through every single day involving classism, racism, and police presence/brutality. In the beginning, A female news anchor talks about the severe beating of a young Arab Abdel who appears to be friends with the boys and the riots which ensued in the Banlieues. The film’s main focus is on friends but also stems from the police brutality of their friend.
The characters in a way, represent those of us in these kinds of situations and how we respond. Vinz represents those who are angry, who demand justice and will stop at nothing for revenge, even if it means total anarchy including death. Said represents those who sit in the middle, they have no strong opinions because it’s too difficult to process, let alone imagine a world where these social problems are entirely abolished. Hubert lastly, exhibits those who accept there is nothing they can do, revenge and anarchy alone will not solve anything and that’s just how the world is. Said is the mediator in the film and can be deduced from the first shot. Surrounding the boys is police, poverty, drugs, and social barriers that keep them from succeeding. Hubert and Vinz constantly argue over a gun that Vinz found which happened to belong to a cop in the neighborhood. Vinz wants to use it by killing a cop in an act of vengeance for his friend Abdel. Hubert on the contrary thinks Vinz has lost his mind and that he needs help if he believes killing someone will avenge their friend. Hubert in one scene, when the police arrive during an attempted murder, stood between the crowd of residents and police in an effort to end the fighting between the two. But even on their side, Hubert was still patronized by those officers.
There is one quote in the film which Vinz and Hubert recited. “Liberté, Égalite, Fraternité”. Those three things are everything that the film stood for however in an ironic take for the first two. Liberty is a synonym for Freedom, which is something the boys don’t have. Even in their own neighborhood, they are oppressed by authorities who view them as nothing other than being scoundrels, the lowest kind of being. They can’t walk in an upscale neighborhood without being harassed by a group of racist police officers, let alone to the point where they were even taken to a police station, tied up, and assaulted while a trainee was watching. Kassovitz showed us how the Police expose rookies to this racism and teach them it is okay to do this to black and brown people because they are considered inferior to them, while the rookie looks disgusted, he’ll probably be sitting on the other side demonstrating to another clueless academy graduate.
Kassovitz debates liberty involving characters, Vinz happens to get away from the cops as a white male, even treated differently stopped and asked for ID while his friends were grabbed and shoved to the door of a cop car. Vinz by his skin color is treated differently than the two, despite them living in the same neighborhood and living in similar circumstances.
Next is Égalite or Equality. There is no equality for neither of them. They are all treated differently by society in a black and white view. The three practically had a sign on the back of them which reads “Bother Me, I’m different”. When entering an art gallery they are followed and looked down upon by the fancy pretentious viewers, by the two women they flirt with they are viewed as horny downright obnoxious, only seen as trouble. When you are seen only as a menace it really takes a toll on a person, but for them, it is an everyday thing, something which won’t be fixed by society. How can equality be there, when a police officer can beat a person to a pulp and be praised and get away with it, but if a person retaliates they are in the wrong?
Lastly is the Fraternité or Brotherhood. Fraternité is from my point of view, the main thing that drives the film. While racism and classist ideas are involved, they are not nearly as strong as a brotherhood. Brotherhood is what kept the three together and sane. Brotherhood saved them from being killed and apprehended by the police, it helped them get home and through the toughest times, and most importantly their feeling of belonging somewhere. There is an older gentleman who comes out of a bathroom stall when the boys were in the bathroom arguing over Vinz wanting to murder a cop. The older gentleman tells the story of him being deported to Siberia, where he traveled on a cattle car there along with his mate Grunvalski. All the men in the cart had to “shit” when the cattle car stopped for water. He however was too shy and usually would hold it, but one day he waited until they all left and he did it behind a bush, but he missed the cattle cart holding his pants up and trying to reach out his hand. Said asks him what happened and he replies “Grunvalski froze to death”.
As I was replaying that story, I figured out that what the elderly man meant by this was to show that instead of bickering and arguing over what needs to be done solely by one person and one way, there needs to be collective effort otherwise we are all fucked as we know it. Instead of Vinz and Hubert arguing over what is to be done for justice and why or why not it could be handled, they need to collectively work for the betterment at the same time keeping themselves together and looking out for one another. Though it might sound like I’m reaching.
The sad reality of the film is the ticking of time on the clock, and how so much can happen in a matter of time. In the morning they were all together, them and their families. They joked, laughed, talked about girls and pop culture. They are just boys who grew up underprivileged, even selling drugs to get by as it was the only opportunity you have. It shows us that truly your life can be taken at any moment, at any time, even by those who are supposed to protect us. Kassoivitz exhibited problems with corruption and racism in French police that anybody can join and cause chaos for their own fun and sick twisted fantasy.
Finally are the beginning and final close-ups of Said. Said in the beginning after a gunshot opens his eyes, the area surrounding him is police standing guard, the morning after riots. In the end Hubert voiceovers repeating a quote from the beginning “Jusqu’ici tout va bien” so far so good, so far so good. Said sees that either the cop or Hubert will pull the trigger, the camera zooms to his face shutting his eyes shut before the gunshot. It’s as if the end can be replaced with the movie and that’s just how it is. There is another riot and round of protests, but still, no justice and Said opens his eyes continuing the day.
---Georgi Slavchev, Los Angeles July 6th, 1:27am.
LA HAINE final score: 10/10