La Haine (1995) - 8/10
La Haine is the first French film I remember watching. When released in 1995 it was a genuine underground hit. It was seen as cool and edgy. I’ve seen many French films since and many much better French films, but La Haine still remains a cinematic triumph. It’s brutally hard hitting. A bunch of young men in the midst of Parisian riots and unrest, a premise set up with archive footage in the opening credits as Bob Marley sings of “burnin’ and lootin’”. It does have an almost documentary feel in places, but what makes La Haine so engaging is truthfully a long list, one that’s probably poured over by film students, it’s that kind of film. Social commentary spliced with gorgeous cinematography, razor sharp shots knocked back in a high contrast black and white. It’s beautiful, especially considering what’s been depicted. Riot vans, callous police, graffitied sprawling estate walls and three friends bursting with vitriolic energy. Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), Vinz (Vincent Cassel) and Hubert (Hubert Koundé) are the drivers of a narrative packed with male bravado. Hanging out, idolising gangster films, angry and eager to riot against the police brutality that’s put their friend in a coma. Hubert is a boxer, but he’s also largely the sensible one. The balance to Vinz and Saïd’s more posturing nature. Saïd is mostly all mouth, but Vinz, well he’s hellbent on earning what he sees as respect and when he finds a gun lost by a cop in the riot, he sees his chance. Cassel was the breakout star of La Haine and it’s easy to see why. He commands the screen in a way that really overshadows the others, which is saying something as there’s no weak link here. This might be down to Vinz being the loose cannon. He’s the hardest to read. The tension very slowly ebbs and flows throughout the day as a ticking clock graphic keeps marking the time of trigger point events. I can’t say it’s an enjoyable film or even that it plays as well nearly 30 years on, but it’s still an arresting 90 minutes and sadly still feels as relevant as ever, with the sort of finale that feels perfectly fitting if not satisfying. A damning account of a violent, ignorant society fuelled by male insecurity. Some things don’t change.