Plot: What’s it about?
In low income outskirts of Paris, violence rules the streets and hatred flows like wine. The gangs battle each other in bloody conflicts, while other youths choose to engage the police in such clashes. The estates where these troubled people live is like a prison to them, with police on a constant patrol and little freedom to express themselves. A lot of these youths have grown to hate their lives, with their only ambitions related to taking out the police or others who cause them problems. Within this brutal landscape are three young men, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmoui), and Hubert (Hubert Kounde), all from very different backgrounds, but stuck in the same lifestyle. The three men share a deep hatred for the police as well, just waiting for a good reason to go on assault and take some of them out. As tensions build and their rage continues to grow, the three move closer to Paris, but will they find any kind of haven there or just another warzone?
La Haine is a terrific movie, a well crafted piece that has more depth than most movies, but remains quite artistic. All too often when filmmakers try to inject political, social, or cultural tones into their films, they either cut too deep or not deep enough, but director Mathieu Kassovitz nails it with La Haine. The movie is so powerful, it sparked riots when it debuted in France and it is rare these days to see such a potent reaction. The insulation of the French culture makes it a little harder to relate to as an American, but the film lays it out well and viewers should be able to follow. The ideas of racial and social injustice are universal, so while this takes place in France, it connects with audiences of all nationalities. I also liked how the film shows the darker side of Paris, known for being such a romantic destination, shown here to have the same flaws as anywhere else. The performances are incredible across the board, so real that at times, La Haine feels like a documentary. La Haine is simply a masterful movie that has a powerful message, one that is delivered in an artistic, effective fashion. As usual, Criterion has rolled out the red carpet and given the film the treatment it deserves, so La Haine is highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
La Haine is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As per usual, Criterion has drummed up a superb transfer, one that is a nice improvement over the import version I’ve seen. Thanks to the digital restoration, the print looks great with minimal grain and debris. I have seen some complaints about the grain removal, with claims that it detracts from the film’s visual design, but I don’t think that is the case. The image still has the gritty texture like before, but yields more detail and depth, so to me, this is the best of both worlds. The contrast is smooth and accurate, so the black and white visuals really shine here. This is even better than I expected, kudos to Criterion on another great presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is available, as well as the original 2.0 option, so its up to you to choose the version you think is best for your needs. This isn’t a summer blockbuster, so the audio doesn’t have limitless power, but there are some moments that benefit from added presence. Even so, the surround is limited and when it does sneak it, it isn’t remarkable, but by the same token, that ensures the audio is never forced. Of course the original French language is preserved in both soundtracks and should you need them, optional English subtitles are present.
Supplements: What are the extras?
If you’re a lover of supplements, you’ll be head over heels for this two disc collection. Kassovitz provides a candid director’s commentary track, in which he pulls no punches whatsoever. He talks about how the project first came up, the politics involved, the casting process, and of course, the production itself. Jodie Foster delivers a substantial introduction, which details how she became with the project, then the film’s theatrical trailers round out the first disc. The second disc starts off with Ten Years of La Haine, a piece that runs about an hour and a half, loaded with insights about the production. In addition to the usual interviews and on scene footage, this also contains news footage, which helps add perspective. A minor amount of repeated information from the commentary, but there is a wealth of worthwhile stuff in this. Two brief featurettes also make the cut here, one on how locations were prepared and the other a more general behind the scenes piece. This release also includes deleted and extended scenes, as well as a stash of behind the scenes photos and production stills.