Transitioning from Non-Diegetic to Diegetic Sound in La Haine

Diegetic sounds in film occur within the context of the film and can be heard by the characters. For example, a song playing from a record player in a room would be a diegetic sound, whereas background music that only the audience can hear would be non-diegetic. While discussing Munich in class, we touched upon the use of diegesis as a tool to transition from one setting to another. Director Mathieu Kassovitz employs this method again in La Haine. The introduction to La Haine features a non-diegetic song played as a soundtrack and cuts to Saïd standing across from police in riot gear as the same song plays in the distance as a diegetic sound. The initial non-diegetic music provides the viewer with the context in which the film takes place and helps to set expectations for the film; the transition to a diegetic version of the same song pulls the viewer into the actual plot seamlessly.

The introduction to La Haine features brutal images of rioting and police brutality set to “Burnin’ and Lootin” by Bob Marley. During the news camera footage of the riots, the song is inherently non-diegetic because none of the characters on screen can hear or interact with the music. The choice to use this song is interesting because its feel is anything but violent, yet the lyrics ‘we’ll be burning and looting tonight’ are certainly appropriate. This background music helps to create setting for the film because the violence in the videos is juxtaposed against a song with a very relaxed feel. La Haine is a slow-moving film with a great deal of violence; a reggae song with lyrics depicting violence parallels the entire feel of the film perfectly.

The transition to diegetic music occurs as soon as the opening credits finish rolling and Saïd opens his eyes across from several police officers. Marley’s song can still be heard, yet the music is affected to sound as though it is drifting through the air from afar. As soon as the music becomes part of the surrounding atmosphere in which Saïd stands, it becomes diegetic. Saïd and the police officers across the street can hear the song bouncing off the concrete buildings in the banlieue, unlike the rioters in the opening sequence.

Kassovitz’ choice to transition from non-diegetic to diegetic music offers the viewer a neutral, removed look at violence in the balieue which then changes to a much more intimate study of the three teenagers involved. The director drops the viewer directly into Saïd’s world, which is comprised of the same streets on which the rioters clashed with the police in the film’s introduction. Because the song remains the same between these two sections, the viewer is subconsciously reminded of the violence presented just before. Also, the continuation “Burnin’ and Lootin’” into the actual story sets up the reasonable expectation that Saïd and his friends will find themselves in violent situations similar to those previously depicted alongside the non-diegetic version of the song.

The use of the non-diegetic music creates a distinction between the audience and the characters, as the characters are completely unaware of it. Kassovitz uses the transition to diegetic music as a way to make the viewer much more involved with the film and foreshadow some of the film’s key events.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Transitioning from Non-Diegetic to Diegetic Sound in La Haine

  1. kayleigh0812

    I thought that your post was really interesting. Typically when the audience watches a movie we do not think always about the music and how much of a role it plays with different changes. These changes are different for every case. It can be used as a mood enhancer or it can be used like you mentioned above as a transition. I thought that you made a great point with Bob Marley’s song “Burnin’ and Lootin'”. I agree that the music did not really go with what was happening, but the lyrics fit the situation perfectly. I think it would be interesting to go back and re-watch some of the movies and see how music changes a scene.

    • srayena

      I found that the song lyrics to Bob Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin'” were perfect for the introduction to La Haine both in their context and mood. As the song begins setting up the context in which rioting is likely to take place (e.g. the first stanza of the song), the audience sees a montage of police officers affixing riot gear to their vehicles, preparing for the riot that occurs once peaceful protest is abandoned. In this way Kassovitz forces the audience to not only become more involved in thinking about his film (by choosing a classic song many people enjoy), but he also forces the audience to really listen to the lyrics of the song, forcing the audience to hear the subtleties of narrative within Bob Marley’s songwriting. As the chorus changes from “burnin’ and lootin'” to “weapin’ and a walin’ tonight,” Kassovitz zooms in on a protest sign reading (in english) “do not forget the police kill mogador-st michel same crime same bastards.” The sign, whose aim in eliciting distrust towards police is obviously well put, also highlights what is, (in my opinion), the aim of Marley’s song and the purpose of the film La Haine. Which is to burn away or destroy the illusions that A, all individuals (namely those in ghettos) are treated equally by police, and more importantly B, that violent means such as rioting are an effective way in which people can achieve change. The only thing that the teens in La Haine accomplish is even more death and destruction than was present at the onset of the film. Thus Marley’s song, specifically the words “burnin’ all illusion tonight” correspond perfectly to La Haine, specifically the opening (and closing) words of the film which highlight that it is not the journey, but the result that matter in the end.
      -Alauna Safarpour

  2. emroberts19

    I definitely agree with your analysis. I really liked the director’s choice to use “Burnin and Lootin” because its lyrics reflect the themes of the movie; for example, in the chorus he sings that they are “burning all illusion tonight.” I really connected with that line because the montage shown at the beginning shows how the inhabitants of the projects have lost all trust in those who are supposed to protect them, and the disillusioned youth are now channeling that into aggression. I also noticed that the director includes a nod to Bob Marley at one additional point in the movie – this songs is playing on Snoopy’s stereo when they go to collect Said’s money, and the camera flashes upon a poster of Marley. It’s apparent that Kassovitz really connected with this song!

  3. tjholt7790

    Utilization of music in movies is often an under-appreciated but noteworthy element. Particularly, through transitioning from diegetic to non-diegetic sounds the director can involve the viewer in the scene. The music on stage presents the character’s investment in the music, and as the sound transitions to off-the-screen, the viewer realizes that he is also immersed in the music and consequently the scene. Music has been something that evokes emotions and truly reaches people since its conception, so by choosing effective ways to implement effective music, filmmakers can thoroughly plunge the viewer into their movies.

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