Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Production: Les Productions Lazennec, with Studio Canal+, La Sept Cinema, Kasso Inc. Productions, and Gramercy Pictures; black and white, 35 mm; running time: 95 minutes; length: 2,731 meters. Released 31 May 1995.
Producer: Christophe Rossignon; associate producers: Adeline Lecallier, Alain Rocca; screenplay: Mathieu Kassovitz; photography: Pierre Aim, Georges Diane; assistant directors: Eric Pujol; editors: Mathieu Kassovitz, Scott Stevenson; sound: Dominique Dalmasso; sound design: Vincent Tulli; production design: Giuseppe Ponturo; set decoration: Sophie Quiedeville; costume designer: Virginie Montel.
Cast: Vincent Cassel (Vinz); Hubert Kounde (Hubert); Said Taghmaoui (Sayid); Francois Levantal (Asterix); Edouard Montoute (Darty); Marc Duret (Inspector "Notre Dame"); Tadek Lokcinski (Monsieur Toilettes); Karin Viard (Gallery Girl); Julie Mauduech (Gallery Girl); Vincent Lindon ("Really" Drunk Man); Karim Belkhadra (Samir); Abdel Ahmed Ghili (Abdel); Solo Dicko (Santo); Joseph Momo (Ordinary Guy); Heloise Rauth (Sarah); Rywka Wajsbrot (Vinz's Grandmother); Olga Abrego (Vinz's Aunt); Laurent Labasse (Cook); Choukri Gabteni (Said's Brother); Peter Kassovitz (Gallery Patron); Mathieu Kassovitz (Young Skinhead).
Awards: Best Director, Cannes Film Festival, 1995; Best Young Film, European Film Awards, 1995; Best French Film, Best Producer, and Best Editor, Cesar Awards, 1996.
Alexander, K., and D. Styan, "La Haine," in Vertigo (Paris), no. 5, 1995.
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* * *
Hate may be a French-language film, set in a specific place and time, but its depiction of alienated, dead-end teens who clash with authority is universal. As such, the film is an explosive, cutting-edge portrait of twisted, wasted lives. Hate is an instant classic of its genre, ranking alongside adolescent angst dramas from Nicholas Ray's 1950s breakthrough, Rebel Without a Cause (whose characters are misunderstood upper-class Southern Californians), to John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood and the Hughes Brothers' Menace II Society. The latter are gutsy, non-romanticized portraits of urban African-America in the 1990s, where guns, drive-by shootings, and "gangsta" attitude are as much a part of everyday life as flipping on a television set. In their depictions of young lives wasting away in an environment of helplessness and hopelessness, Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society directly parallel the sensibility that permeates Hate. Much of the scenario of Hate, written and directed by 29-year-old Mathieu Kassovitz, is set in a public housing project just outside Paris. As it begins, adolescents and police have just violently clashed, with the conflict sparked by the brutal beating by the cops of a young man named Abdel, who lies near death in a hospital. The main characters are Abdel's three friends: the Arab Sayid, the Jewish Vinz, and the black Hubert.
Of the trio, Vinz is the most sociopathic. He idolizes one of the most celebrated of all celluloid psychos: Travis Bickle, the character played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. As he glares into a mirror and imitates Travis, Vinz does not exude a "youtalkin'-to-me" cool. Rather, he contorts his face, becoming a hideous and horrifying symbol of contemporary alienated youth.
The genial Sayid is content to play tag-along, following in Vinz's shadow. Hubert, meanwhile, is the most self-aware. He is the only one who can articulate the fact that he will be unable to flourish if he cannot escape the projects. Yet Hubert, Sayid, and Vinz remain inexorably linked by their nonexistent futures. They have neither jobs nor job prospects. The concept of a "career" and economic independence is not in their realm. All they do is hang out and smoke marijuana, and they are constantly harassed by the police. These young men are not inherently violent or bad, yet their economic status, age, and demeanor allow the authorities to single them out as troublemakers.
Forebodingly, Vinz comes into possession of a Smith & Wesson .44. He promises that, if Abdel dies, he will get revenge by "whacking a pig." It seems inevitable that Abdel will die—so watching Hate is like watching a firecracker waiting to explode.
Hate is loaded with perverse irony. The teens are haunted by a phrase—"The World Is Yours"—from an advertisement that is ever-present on billboards. Yet clearly, the reality is that the world is not theirs. These young men have no choices. Their lives are predetermined and, if they protest, there are plenty of police around to keep them in their places.
Another key to the film is the all-encompassing impact of American culture and consumerism on Sayid, Hubert, and Vinz, who refer to themselves as "homeboys" and their neighborhood as "the hood." Their speech is laced with American pop cultural references, from the movies Lethal Weapon and Batman to the animated characters Sylvester and Tweetie and Mickey Mouse. A secondary character wears a Notre Dame jacket. Another dons a T-shirt which proclaims that "Elvis Shot JFK." One puts down another by exclaiming, "Your mother drinks Bud." Another, who is a fence, is nicknamed "Walmart."
Kassovitz also cannily demonstrates how poverty and hopelessness extend beyond racial barriers. Here, a Jew, an Arab, and a black are united by their common experience, and are equally alienated and anti-social. The Jew and Arab do not clash over, for example, the politics of the state of Israel, a conflict that is far removed from their daily lives. The characters are who they are as individuals, rather than being political or sociological, let alone stereotypical, mirrors of their ethnicity. They are not separated by race or religion, but rather are united by age and economic background, by drugs and wretched educations, and by the allure of the culture of violence. At one juncture, Vinz asks his younger sister why she is not in school. "It burned down," is the blunt reply. All of this helps to make Hate seem ever more real.
Vinz, Hubert, and Sayid may live in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Élysées, yet the affluence and romance symbolized by these monuments to French civilization are unattainable. Because they live in a battle zone that is closer to the South Central Los Angeles depicted in Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society, Hate has more in common with these films than with the French-language features that celebrate Paris and l'amour.
Kassovitz' choice to shoot the film in black-and-white is appropriate, as the lack of an on-screen color palette helps to stress the bleakness and sterility of his characters' surroundings. His use of a hand-held camera gives the film a gritty, cinema-verite feel, and mirrors their disorientation. Not for an instant are Vinz, Hubert, Sayid, and their cronies in any way romanticized. And that is how it should be.