Striking a match is easy; containing the blaze is hard. Rallying the troops to your cause doesn’t take much skill, but leading them down the path requires vision. Unleashing one’s anger isn’t difficult, but channeling that anger into something that can change the situation is wildly complexed.
Or, as a certain French film puts it: “It’s not how you fall that matters…it’s how you land”.
LA HAINE is a story that takes place over the course of one day around a housing project in suburban Paris. The night before, tempers flared as police brutality landed a young man named Abdel in a coma. During the day that follows, three of Abdel’s friends wander here and there wondering what to do about the situation, and what to do with themselves. There’s jewish Vinz (Vincent Cassel) – who retrieves a police revolver and waves it around in ways that have us wincing and waiting for it to go off. There’s the black man Hubert (Hubert Koundé) – the small time drug dealer who seems to be a target of racism no matter where he goes…even though he’s actually often the one to keep Vinz and his pistol in check. Finally, there’s Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) who seldom seems quite sure what to do, but feels as though the best recourse for the situation will be handed to him by either Vince or Hubert.
The trio spend the day interacting with other hooligans, several cops, and a handful of other bawlers, brawlers, and bastards…all seemingly aware of how close the community is to another round of violence.
In some ways, it’s difficult to believe that LA HAINE is twenty years old. While that is an incredible detail in the way that it gives the film an unexpected timelessness, it’s also a gut-wrenching report on the state of the world. This film could have been set in America over the last several years…it could have been set at the scene of any G7 summit over the last fifteen…it could have been set in London two years ago. It illustrates the way there are problems within problems, and because of that nothing gets solved. It’s not just a matter of rich versus poor…or black versus white. It’s subgroups within every group that prevent things from being seen as a united front.
These sections of our communities exist now just as much as they did in 1995, and just like back then they make it hard for things to really get done.
As one character in this film puts it, it’s cause to invert the common question and wonder if God believes in us? How could God believe in us…why would God believe in us? Not only are there those amoung us who would bring pain and disrespect to people like Vinz, Saïd, and Hubert, but there are people on their own side who go and make it hard to sympathize.
It’s films like these that make you ask not so much if we’re ever going to get help fixing the problems like these that still exist in our world, but if we’re even capable of helping ourselves.
You have to love a film like LA HAINE that is aware of other films. It’s as if it knows the language of cinema that its characters would best understand. Is it any wonder that when Vinz looks to duck out of harm’s way, that he takes refuge in the dark of a matinée? The problem with being fluent in the language of film is that it leads to unreasonable expectations, a disrespect for human life, and illusions of grandeur. It’s one thing to be a restless lower class youth, and feel as though you aren’t getting your fair shake in life. As soon as you start to fantasize about killing cops like you’ve seen in too many stories, you’ve lost the plot somewhere.
The problem is that when we see the world that LA HAINE depicts, we almost feel like letting the lads live out the movies that are playing in their heads. Throughout the film that billboard taunts them – as it did Tony Camonte and Tony Montana later – by telling them that “The World is Yours”. Just a little bit of money, just a few plans carried out, and it’s all there for the taking! In a community like the one these minorities live in, that could almost be seen as ironic. As it happens, given the realities and conditions their lives entail, it’s not actually ironic, it’s downright mean.
Perhaps that’s why there seems to be a sliver of catharsis in Saïd’s handiwork that changes the notorious poster to read “The World is Ours“. It’s a glimmer of he – and by extension the whole community – making the message their own, and it comes in the sort of nefarious way that is emblematic of life in this corner of Paris.
Saïd knows what that motto did to the antiheroes of the other films that featured it; he’s not about to play out their scenes.
It’s that feeling hate at the centre of LA HAINE which leaves us feeling so anxious…so empty. As Hubert reminds us in the film’s late-going, it will only beget more hate…but when we see what people like he, Vinz, and Saïd got through, it’s difficult to see the cycle ever breaking. It’s not just expressions of hate that lead to situations like that of LA HAINE, it’s the humiliation, confusion, and sadness that it sparks. Like a virus that requires a host, it almost demands repercussion, and that sort of virus just feeds on the immaturity and quick temper that boys like Vinz embody. It’s what sparks the violent reactions that can sometimes stoke the fire, and likewise feeds the stereotypes that keeps “the other side” hungry.
We see what Vinz cannot see when he’s talking to his own reflection; that everything that has happened to him so far is terrible…but like so many people in the world cut from his cloth, he has a knack of making things so very much worse.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for June so far…
Rebecca watched THE SEVENTH SEAL
James watched DOWNFALL
Beatrice watched GOOD WILL HUNTING
Courtney watched THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Keisha watched THE LEOPARD
Josh watched CLEO FROM 5 TO 7
Anna watched WILD AT HEART
Katie watched NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Jenna and Allie watched THE TERMINATOR
John Hitchcock watched BACK TO BATAAN
Andina watched REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
Jay Cluitt watched THE IRON GIANT
Natasha watched MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
Chris watched A FACE IN THE CROWD
Mette Kowalski watched A MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA
Brittani watched TAXI DRIVER
Sean Kelly watched ROGER & ME
Paskalis watched HAPPY TOGETHER
Kevin watched ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL
Steven watched THE LONG GOODBYE