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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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