The urban spaces of “ La Haine”

As a season of 1990s cinema kicks off at BFI Southbank, we look back at the suburban landscapes of Mathieu Kassovitz’s vital portrait of the Paris suburbs.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s award-winning drama, La Haine (1995), follows a day in the life of three young men from immigrant families in a poverty-stricken Paris suburb. Fizzing with rage, the film gave voice to the disavowed communities in the housing projects outside of the capital but, essentially, didn’t romanticise the tough reality of these charged environments. Using stylistic innovation, black and white photography, and the director’s real life experiences witnessing protests against police brutality, Kassovitz created a moody social surrealism that resulted in one of the great urban portraits of the 1990s.

Riots have occurred in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, north of Paris, following the hospitalisation of Abdel while in police custody. His friends are debating what to do. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), having come into possession of a stolen police revolver, vows revenge if Abdel dies. Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) is the joker, forced to play mediator between Vinz and the third of the trio, Hubert (Hubert Koundé), a boxer and drug dealer who tries to maintain a distance from the police in the hope of eventually escaping the suburbs. After an officer is nearly shot, the trio flee the intervening police, taking a train to central Paris where they encounter an array of characters and problems. But what sort of welcome will await them on their return to the suburbs?

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