It's been labelled French cinema's answer to Boyz N The Hood, but La Haine (Hate) has a flavour all of its own. Writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz butts European urbanity up against American street style as kids clash with cops in suburban Paris. The result is an explosion of scathing social commentary and dynamic storytelling. Delving into the generational, racial, and class divides of his native France, Kassovitz offers a fearless - if unreservedly pessimistic - attack on the frontlines of power.
During a riot in the outskirts of Paris, police beat an Arab teenager (Abdel Ahmed Ghili) into a coma, fuelling a fire of hatred inside Vinz (Vincent Cassel) - a Jew who swears to "whack" a cop if the boy dies. It's left to Vinz's cohorts, the jocular Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) - also Arab - and subdued African boxer Hubert (Hubert Koundé) to talk him out of his bloody plan as they embark on a loafing odyssey from the immigrant neighbourhoods to the big city. Still, the time bomb keeps ticking.
"A FATALISTIC ACCOUNT OF SOCIETY'S DECLINE"
Counting down 24 hours, Kassovitz never gives the illusion of a happy ending. This is a fatalistic account of society's decline and it's plainly one-sided - the only cop who shows sympathy for the "troubled youth" is ineffective among an army of bigots and bullies. Evidently Kassovitz sees things in black and white, which might explain his choice of a striking monochrome print.
But it's the conviction and bold invention with which Kassovitz tells the tale that makes it utterly compelling. Despite a meditative pace, there are shades of Scorsese in his kinetic camera moves, and in a scene lifted straight from Taxi Driver where Vinz poses in the mirror with a gun, snarling, "You talkin' to me?"
Playing Vinz, Cassel radiates with a blistering intensity throughout, while Koundé offsets him with a cool self-assurance. Taghmaoui also turns in an outstanding performance, offering comic relief to balance the otherwise unbearable tension. Superbly acted and brilliantly executed, La Haine will tear through you like a bullet.
In French with English subtitles.