La Haine at 25: The prophetic French classic whose message fell on deaf ears

Editor's note: The opinions in this article are the author's, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft. A story of three friends living under the spiked boot of inequality, it’s continued to find an audience both in France and across the globe. Shot in black and white, it draws from the formalism of the past, yet presents its ambitious camera moves and visual poeticism with a playful wink – it has the style and the attitude of truerebellion. The film opens with documentary footage pulled from past protests, specifically those following the 1993 killing of Makome M’Bowole, a teenager from Zaire, and that of 22-year-old Malik Oussekine in 1986, both at the hands of the police. The country’s immigrant population doubled in the decades after the Second World War, reaching 3.4 million in 1975, as cheap labour was sourced from former colonies in order to fuel rapid economic growth. France saw the new arrivals only as a short-term investment, so housed them in cheap, cheerless, Brutalist units dumped out in the middle of the countryside. After a night of riots sparked by the beating of a young “beur” (French slang for a second-generation north African) named Abdel, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) stumbles across a policeman’s handgun. Kassovitz has described his leads as “thegood, thebad, and the naive”: Hubert dreams of escape, Vinz desires only vengeance and Saïd does his best to stay ignorant – the film opens and closes on his eyes, shut tight. All their misadventures amount to is a series of denials; they’re kicked out of the gallery, fail to secure the money, andmisstheirtrain home. The banlieues are buried in the outskirts of cities so that, for the rest of the country, they exist only as headlines or political talking points. A woman leans precariously out of a window,wielding her microphone like a knife, but she never dares to actually step foot in their neighbourhood. This is a nation that upholds its own culture with a kind of religious fervour, expecting all those who land on its shores to abandon their pasts and their values in favour of total assimilation. Vinz, Said and Hubert are constantly watched over by the poets Arthur Rimbaud andCharles Baudelaire, painted in Orwellian style on the sides of their housing blocks. But there’s a terrible truth at the centre of all this: to abandon those parts of their identity thatarestill their own, to a country that values nothing about them, would render them completely invisible. La Haine’s most famous sequence sees the camera hop out of a bedroom window and glide over the banlieue itself,both as an angel and an ominous portent. It features a cameo by DJ Cut Killer, who plays a mash-up of NTM’s “Nique la Police” (“F**k the Police”) and Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne regretterien”.Kassovitz adopts the same approach. His use of black and white, combined with such experimental camera work, evokes the greatest of French exports – the New Wave films of theFiftiesandSixties, by figures such as Jean-Luc Godard and Agnès Varda. Meanwhile, he borrows a zoom effect made famous by Hitchcock’s Vertigo and sets his film over the course ofasingleday,inviting comparisons to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood (2014), Zaïda Ghorab-Volta’s Jeunesse dorée (2001), Houda Benyamina’s Divines (2016), and Ladj Ly’s Oscar-nominated Les Misérables (2019) have framed thebanlieue as places of hope, despair, rage and resolution. In La Haine, Hubert paints a pessimistic view of the world: “Have you ever heard the one about a man falling from a skyscraper?