Photo: AA Film Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
On the 6th April 1993, 17-year-old Makome Bowole died in police custody in France after being accidentally shot in the head at point-blank range by a policeman. It was the incident which would inspire Mathieu Kassovitz to begin writing La Haine on the same day.On its release in 1995, La Haine polarised French society. It depicted the experiences of everyday life in France’s banlieues (social housing projects), illustrating the temptations, the relentless threat of violence and the social unrest young people felt at the time.
While the film is an unflinching snapshot of a moment in French history, its exploration of police brutality and ability to subvert the stereotypes associated with being “the Other” has made its scope far more universal. This is especially true in its critique of how people from marginalised communities are often alienated by the media and society at large.For many people who grew up in a big city like London, La Haine is arguably one of the most relatable films about coming from a minority background and growing up on a council estate or being working class. It captures the disadvantages, dynamism and humour of those environments in a way that isn’t sensationalised.Off the back of the film’s re-release to UK cinemas last week, I spoke to people from London who can identify with the people La Haine aimed to represent about what the film means to them, and what its impact has been 25 years on.
“The iconography was easily evoked in the London riots of 2010 and the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020”
I find that La Haine reflects the hilarious oxymoron of living on a council estate and knowing you are estranged and isolated from the rest of the world, and yet still surveilled constantly by the police. Hubert’s character also shows that even in bleak situations, you can find purpose through a passion or vocation and seek joy and meaning in that. But despite working hard and finding something you love to do, there’s no guarantee that it won’t all go up in flames at any moment.
During both the London riots of 2010 and the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020 the iconography and enduring imagery of La Haine were easily evoked. It’s also not a coincidence that foreign audiences, especially in New York and London, saw the truth of their own society and neighbourhoods reflected back at them. I feel like the societal ills that plague the film such as police brutality and a total lack of mobility are still stark reminders of the total dereliction of duty by the government. The fact these issues are replicated and still exist today aren’t coincidences but are instead the structures of oppression in motion. Kofo, 25
“It doesn't ask for pity, dwell on tragedies, or condescend the viewer”
I’d describe La Haine as an honest fairytale. The film’s candidness is what makes it so timeless and contemporary. It doesn't ask for pity, dwell on tragedies, or condescend the characters and viewers. I feel like this level of honesty still isn't capable in modern Britain today in regards to having uncomfortable conversations and challenging perspectives. Internally, it still feels like it’s asking too much of people.We can at least try to learn from the film, though. One scene that springs to mind is the one where an old man emerges from a bathroom stall to tell the main characters a moral tale. In the Grunwalski story, a man has a choice to either be humiliated and live, or keep his pride and ultimately die. For me, this scene encapsulates what the entire film is about, which is pride. Hate breeds hate if we allow our pride to take over. I think many issues in the world today could be resolved if people put their egos aside as the film laments. Tolu, 25
“It captures masculinity in crisis”
La Haine really captures masculinity in crisis, in regards to all three characters. As someone who identifies as Jewish I also read Vinz’s character as being perplexed about his identity throughout the film. It seems he’s having an internal battle with himself about who is and where he belongs, in the sense of not being Jewish enough for Jewish people but too Jewish for wider society.However, we definitely see the privilege that comes with growing up white. For example, when the trio visit Snoopy, Vinz is allowed to prove who he is to the police but Saïd and Hubert are held down immediately. In that example, it’s a white woman who calls the police on them for something minor which almost leads to their deaths, which goes to show how precarious life is for people who don’t have that privilege.In terms of impact, the film clearly shows that violence creates more violence and that as long as issues such as poverty go unaddressed structurally and young men don’t have strong father figures or receive support early on, it won’t be unusual for history to keep repeating itself. Julius, 23
“It explores how media impacts on the way people might perceive themselves”
It seems as though people in Britain sometimes willingly except what the media presents of certain groups of people without realising the extent of how this might haunt how they perceive themselves, or are perceived on an everyday basis by others. This is something that is explored really well in La Haine. For example, I don’t think people recognise how the reaction to a tragic attack such as the 7/7 bombings changed the experience of growing up in the London or the UK for a lot of Muslim men and how it altered how they perceive themselves in the context of their surroundings. Yassmine, 23
“It captures the rawness and unpredictability of everyday life”
La Haine captures the rawness and unpredictability of everyday life when you grow up in a similar environment to the characters. The UK and France are similar in the sense that the media portrays a very constructed image of Paris and London of it being wealthy and glamorous, when in reality, there is a huge divide between the rich and the poor. Classism is just so engrained into our culture and the film really shows how little the lives of certain people matter in the framework of this system, and how people’s realities and experiences can be completely nullified.In regards to legacy, I’d say that a lot of the time it’s actually privileged people who work in film or the arts who are more familiar with La Haine. You can see that the film intends to speak to the struggles of people who live in poverty, but in reality, it’s unlikely that many of those people will actually see the film.It makes me question who is commissioning certain films, what the message they are trying to convey is and who are they trying to reach. We need a wider range of stories out there, which celebrate the lives of people from disadvantaged backgrounds and aren’t sensationalised. Especially of those who show resilience and carve out a successful life for themselves, because this isn’t as unusual as people think. Karim, 22@yaaas_ismail