“The World is Ours”: La Haine and the New France

Mathieu Kassovitz’s film shows a France that most Americans would not expect, given that most associations with French films in Parisian settings are more along the lines of cutesy Amelie (which Kassovitz costarred in) than a gritty film that exposes the dark underside of the projects of Paris.  La Haine is a film that shows a France plagued by gangs and police brutality.  Kassovitz, who grew up in Paris, makes several interesting choices that make this film a commentary on life in the projects, and a commentary on French society.

The thesis of this film seems to be the anecdote that is repeated at the beginning and the end; the story is told about a man who is falling from a skyscraper; every time he passes a floor he says to himself, “so far so good.”  “But it’s not how you fall that matters; it’s how you land.”  At the end, however, they say that “society” is falling, fooling itself into thinking everything is fine as it moves towards its own destruction.

00:01:05 A graphic match between this shot and the following burning car present the theme of the destruction of society.

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As the film progresses, the motif of the globe is repeated through the use of a billboard that has a shot of the globe with the caption “The World Is Yours.”  We first see the billboard as Hubert looks out the window of the train, after Vinz has pulled the gun on a cop.    As Hubert looks at the billboard, we get the feeling that he is frustrated by the emptiness of its words, as he listens to Vinz brag about their confrontation with the police.  There is then a close up of his face as he is suddenly fed up with the game that they are all playing, pretending that they will all be fine when they are stuck in an endless loop of violence.  The billboard shows up again towards the end, as the 3 boys wander the city, but Said changes it to “The World Is Ours.”  This shows Said’s attitude in stark contrast with Hubert’s.  While Hubert has made efforts to make an honest living and is now resigned to his life in the projects without prospects, Said still possesses a youthful naivete, as he is shown throughout the film cracking jokes, stealing, and spraying graffiti.  He genuinely believes that the world belongs to the 3 boys, that they are living the good life.

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I’d like to return to the close up on Hubert during their train ride.  I noticed that there was a similar shot of all 3 boys at different points in the film.  I think that Kassovitz uses these close ups to communicate each boy’s moment of realization.  For Hubert, he is realizing that his world is slowly collapsing.  There is a close up of Vinz as he bears witness to a man shooting a bouncer who refused to let him in; for him, this moment represents the realization of what shooting and killing someone truly means.  Because despite his parading in front of his mirror Taxi Driver-style and his boasts of wanting to do time in prison, Vinz is not as tough as he would like his friends to think.  Lastly, there is a close up of Said as he watches Hubert and the plainclothes policeman poised to shoot each other.  Said has kept his naive outlook on life up until this point; during his close up he realizes the gravity of the life they are living, the consequences of gangs and weapons and drug money.

For me, this film was two-sided.  First, it showed the personal journeys of Said, Hubert, and Vinz.  Second, it showcased the daily life of the projects and the stark class divide in Paris.  An example that comes to mind is the use of the song “Burnin’ and Lootin'” by Bob Marley.  The song is playing during the beginning montage of police riot footage, and it is still in the background in the image below, as Said sees the policemen, menacingly lined up waiting for an excuse to arrest somebody.  It is repeated yet again as Said confronts Snoopy (around minute 21) and there is a poster of Bob Marley in Snoopy’s apartment.  The lyrics of the song reflect the adversity faced by the main characters.

How many rivers do we have to cross,
Before we can talk to the boss?
All that we got, it seems we have lost;
We must have really paid the cost.                                                                                                                                                      Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
Burnin’ all pollution tonight;
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.

The last screenshot pictured below right was another shot that highlighted the divide between the inhabitants of the projects and the policeman tasked with protecting them.  As Hubert and Vinz wait in the lobby of the police station, the camera pana around them, showing all of the policemen staring at them suspiciously as they pass until we see the policemen standing in front of them, with the graffiti evidence of a recent raid on the station behind them on the wall.  During this shot, a sense of urgency and paranoia is created by the escalating rings of police telephones.