Monday, February 9, 2009

Hate's Ability to Consume

Hate, racism, prejudice, these are all negative forces in which we are taught never to engage. Emotions such as these have led to violence, to wars, to heartaches among families of all races, classes, and social statuses. La Haine, an original French film (1995), not only illustrates the ability for hate to ruin the lives of “inner city” youth, but also how it can traverse the boundaries of the individual and impact entire societies.

La Haine follows the story of three youth, Vinz, who is Jewish, Said, a Muslim, and Hubert, a black drug dealer. The story commences after the Parisian riots, in which their friend Abdel is killed as a result of police brutality. Vowing to avenge their friend’s death, La Haine trails the lives of these three individuals as they grapple with the hate that begins to consume them.

The director, Mathieu Kassovitz, made an excellent stylistic choice by deciding to film the move in black and white. While I initially thought the film would transition into color after the opening credits, the continuation of black and white created an absence of warmth and underlined the chilling effects of hate throughout the course of the film. The opening credits, the laid-back Jamaican music juxtaposed against the riot scenes flashing before my eyes, created a smooth transition to the rest of the film with the ambiance it created.

The movie was lacking in action, as it followed the seemingly mundane day of the three youth who had nothing better to do than roam the streets and engage in occasional scuffles. The scenes seemed disconnected as they were separated by time stamps on a black screen, and the tick of a second hand. Although each scene did not seem to have relation to the previous, they all contributed to the greater picture in a brilliant way. The dichotomy presented between the scenes that took place during the day, and those that took place at night, highlighted seemingly different parts of each individual’s character. For example, during the day, we were exposed to the public life of the boys, whereas at night, we were given insight into their actions in a setting in which they thought no one was watching.

Kassovitz also made an excellent decision by deciding to show Hubert and Vinz in their home environments. As a viewer, I was able to see how Vinz was just as loud and rude with his family as those his explosive attitude seemed to touch in daily life, whereas Hubert was respectful to his mother, and acted as a support to his sister. Although these were fleeting moments, they were able to provide valuable insight into what made each boy tick.

The plot picked up with the interaction of two events, the first when Vinz found a gun lost by a policeman in a riot, and the second, with Abdel’s death in hospital. Now impassioned by the death of his friend, Vinz was determined to kill a “keuf”, slang for a police officer, in order to ensure that Abdel’s death was not in vain. What was primarily manifested as hatred for the police turned into an unfocused anger towards everything.

Although there were many loud confrontations, the tension was best exhibited in the silence in particular moments; when Vinz hid his gun as he was about to leave, and then decided to go back for it without reason. This moment was particularly powerful as it foreshadowed the use of his gun.

The reasoning behind Kassovitz’s decision to place three boys of different religious and ethnic background together became apparent through their many confrontations with another racist gang. In one of these, Vinz, with a sudden flash of hatred, was about to kill one of the gang members, but was talked down by Hubert, always a voice of reason. Disgusted by how close he came to killing another individual, he handed the gun over to Hubert for safe keeping.

The movie ended with one final confrontation between Vinz and the gang, just as Hubert was walking away. Upon hearing the skirmish, he turned around, and with one look at the gun he held, a sense of power and certainty transformed his very appearance. An accidental misfiring by the gang member led to Vinz’s sudden death, and caused Hubert to raise his gun. The screen went back with the sound of a final gun shot, and though the viewer was not able to see what ensued, it was evident that both Hubert and the other gang member were killed. Hubert, who would have never committed a murder, was completely transformed by the hatred he felt after Vinz’s death. It was particularly dramatic to note how Vinz, the one with the explosive anger was the one to have the final say in the movie. Furthermore, while the movie was focused on cop hatred, the final result was not revenge against the police, but rather against the racist gang. The director was clearly commenting on the social situations contributing to the roots of hatred.

Throughout the film, the viewer was constantly presented with symbolism and irony. The boys would constantly pass by advertisements saying “le monde est à vous”, meaning the world is yours, and each time, at least one of the characters would interact with it directly, either with a glance, or a comment. In once scene, Said used spray paint to change the slogan to, “le monde est à nous”, the world is ours. Powerful imagery such as this emphasized the messages and signaled the desire for each of the boys to change his life for the better. In this way, the director was able to illustrate the cycle of hate, the ability for it to grasp on so tightly that it is impossible to break free. This film was not only successful in its narration of this particular story, but also its ability to stem reflection and to encourage the viewer to place its lessons into the context of a greater society. It made me reflect on the role of hatred among the impoverished, and also its manifestation in wars and civil conflicts. This movie was very successful in presenting these lessons in a powerful way.

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