Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good

No 170 - La Haine
Director - Mathieu Kassovitz.

I wish to begin with a culinary analogy. The last thing I saw from the hallowed list was Breakfast at Tiffany's. A fondant fancy of a film. Light, fluffy and enticingly pastel coloured. Following Breakfast at Tiffany's with La Haine is like following a fondant fancy with a brick. A big gritty, hard and chunky brick.

I would put this film in the same school as Kids (which came out in the same year), or more recently, This is England. An essentially plotless film which follows the disillusioned youth over a period of time and building a horrific amount of tension.
The plot (whatever plot there is) is very simple. The film follows three Parisian teenagers: Vinz, Saïd and Hubert. Their friend, Abdel, as been shot by the police during a riot. Vinz has stolen a police gun and swears that if Abdel dies, he will kill a policeman.

Over the film, the tension builds as we see the friends come to terms with what is happening within their world.

However, the film is not about the story. The film is about the characters. Specifically the three friends:
Starting with Saïd, played by Saïd Taghmaoui (more recently seen as Caesar in the last season of Lost). He isn't the most popular person, and seems to constantly compensate that - trying to say the right thing, trying to fit in. He is often unnecessarily confrontational, because that seems like the thing to do within that group. His character really is quite sad in how petty and weak he is...

Saïd may be a sad character, but he is in now way as sad as Hubert. Hubert is having doubts about his friends. When we first meet him, rioters have burnt down his gym and he has nowhere to train. His friends may have not been the rioters who did the burning but they certainly are rioters, and are therefore linked to that crime.
For the majority of the film he is the calming influence. Quiet and brooding you're waiting for him to snap, but rather than snap he frequently holds the group back and stops confrontations between his friendship group and the police. The world is his oyster. He is going to leave this town and actually do something with his life.
It is that initial promise which makes the latter end of the film so sad. Gradually, Hubert tires of the system and gradually gets angrier and angrier. By the end of the film he is the real destructive element, inciting vandalism, violence, theft and even murder. It may not be a fall from 'grace' (he is hardly a good person) but it is a fall, and it is heartbreaking to see his hope quashed.

Finally... Vinz. Vinz is a truly messed up and frequently terrifying character, portrayed by Vincent Cassel (each character is played by actors with the same name). Vinz is quite a massive stoner and often gets accused of 'Bogarting' the group's drugs. I didn't know what this meant (I'm not that street) - however Urban Dictionary has saved me.
This excessive use of drugs means that Vinz is also a little bit unhinged. He hallucinates, frequently seeing a cow wandering through Paris. More worryingly, he has fantasies of being Travis Bickle. He recites the 'Are you talking to me?' speech to his reflection, it is matched cinematically, his trips to the cinema echo Travis' trips to the Porno theatre. That is why it is so terrifying when he gets a gun. He explodes so frequently. If anyone ever dares to question his opinion, or if anyone ever dares to be a figure of authority, it led to a horrific confrontations. Threats of violence. Bringing out his gun to emphasise his point. You're just waiting for him to crack and kill a cop.

Vinz is terrifying. It doesn't matter that people frequently try to explain why they need to change. You spend the whole film waiting for Vinz's manic outbreak. So, it is a high credit to the film that when everything kicks off it is a surprise. A horrific, brutal surprise.

Before the final horrors, we are introduced to the plain clothed police. I'm not sure how these police work in France but they're horrible. In just one scene you see why the central trio hate them so much. The group are arrested and subsequently threatened, racially abused and tortured in a horrific police station scene.
It is the only thing we see which supports and explains the mentality of the group and their social scene.

It is a wonderful but truly desolate film. Full of unhappy, impoverished people who have been let down by 'the system'. It is bleak, meandering and at times, horribly violent. However, it does it exceptionally well and the film is fascinating and captivating.

I'm just glad that I also watched The Bird Cage - to leave me with happy silliness.


Claire said...

This is one of my favourite French films, gritty as it is. Thanks for reminding me of it - haven't watch it since my uni days, need to see it again!


Bro said...

This is actually my single favourite film...after reading this post, I think I'm going to go watch it again haha