Life in Paris tenements, or ‘banlieues,’ set during the Parisian riots of the early 1990’s and revolving around how residents are responding to the life and death struggle of an Arab boy lying in the hospital after being brutally beaten by the police.
La Haine is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t an easy film, and like City of God the movie refuses to pull punches or paint a rosy picture for those living in the poorest of conditions. A stunning debut effort for director Mathieu Kassovitz who, Crimson Rivers and the recent Seattle International Film Festival stunner Rebellion notwithstanding, has never lived up to the potential hinted at here, the movie is an emotional firestorm that builds and builds to a breaking point so apocalyptic every time I watch it I worry my eyes will burst within their sockets.
But, also like Fernando Meirelles’ Columbian masterwork (made a full seven years after La Haine and without a doubt partially inspired by it), the movie is a miracle of character and nuance, showing what it is like to be on the ‘ground floor’ of this world by building and molding characters who are as familiar as they are unique. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), a Jewish boy, Said (Said Taghmaoui), an Arab, and Hubert (Hubert Kounde), a North African amateur boxer, are instantly recognizable. We know these men. We relate to them. Most of us at one time or another has at least stepped a toe within one or more of their shoes. They are us and we are them, their saga giving La Haine its universality and a visceral appeal unlike just about anything else.
Kassovitz builds things with direct ferocity, knowing that his bleakly acidic drama can’t end well but not caring if people become uncomfortable with that. In many respects, it is the same technique Spike Lee used for Do the Right Thing, making the two films kindred spirits even if the worlds they are depicting are separated by a few thousand miles and one gigantic ocean. The final moments of La Haine slap the viewer in the face while prying their eyes open so they can’t look away at the exact same time, the incendiary ferocity so striking even after a half-dozen viewings what’s depicted still can’t help but blow my mind. Rightly regarded as a modern classic, Kassovitz’s debut is a mesmerizing marvel worthy of continuous adoration.
La Haine is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1/1080p transfer. As stated in the included booklet: “Supervised by director Mathieu Kassovitz, this new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Further color correction was done on a Specter Datacine. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain and flicker.”
La Haine comes to Blu-ray in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and includes optional English SDH subtitles. Again, from the included booklet: “The 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”
Extras here are ported over from the previous DVD release and include:
· Jodie Foster Introduction
· Audio Commentary with director Mathieu Kassovitz
· Stills Gallery
· Deleted and Extended Scenes
· The Making of a Scene featurette
· Preparation for the Shoot featurette
· Social Dynamite documentary
· Ten Years of "La Haine" making-of documentary
· French Theatrical Trailers
It’s a ton of stuff, all of it digging into the film in minute detail with Kassovitz’s spellbinding commentary track being the chief selling point as far as the extras are concerned. Also of note is the Studio Canal making-of retrospective documentary Ten Years of “La Haine”, the almost 90-minute feature absolutely essential viewing for anyone with even moderate affinity for the film.
The Blu-ray also comes with a 18-page Illustrated Booklet featuring liner notes essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau and an appreciation by acclaimed filmmaker Costa-Gavras.
Not for the faint of heart, Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine is still nonetheless a stunning achievement that helped change the face of avant garde in-your-face independent cinema during the 1990’s. It’s a superior film that gets better with each passing year, Criterion’s Blu-ray presentation close to perfection.