La Haine (Criterion Blu-ray)

Director - Mathieu Kassovitz

Cast - Vincent Cassel, Said Taghmaoui, Hubert Kounde

Country of Origin - France

Discs - 1

MSRP - $39.95

Distributor - Criterion

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

The Film (5/5)

     La Haine is one of those films that I had heard about for years before actually seeing.  I remember reading about in a ridiculous amount of cult film books and magazines after it was released in the late 90's making me salivate with desire over eventually seeing it.  Unfortunately, during the video era I was less savvy about getting a hold of obscure films, and if my video store couldn't get a copy, I couldn't see it, so it wasn't until Criterion released La Haine on DVD in 2006 that I finally had my chance. 

     It took that one viewing to put it into my top 10 films of all time.  A position that has been maintained through many multiple repeat viewings in the years since.

     I hate to use Summer Blockbuster sounding pull quotes to describe such a brilliant film, but La Haine surely is a true cinematic explosion.  Watching it unfold for the first time all those years ago, it was like watching a cinematic fire burning.  This is a film once it has you in its grip, it is nearly impossible to turn away from. 

    La Haine follows 3 friends Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmaoui), and Hubert (Hubert Kounde) in the projects on the outskirts of Paris.  The trio are misunderstood, and ostracized even amongst their own.  They are unemployed, and angry at the world with no outlet for that anger.  The film opens on the morning after a night of rioting that had particularly devastating consequences.  A friend of theirs was brutalized by the police, and now lies in the hospital on the brink of death.  Hubert's gym his own personal success story now lays in ashes burnt to the ground by rioters, and Vinz has found a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum dropped by riot police.  This incites a 24 hour decent into darkness, as the characters explore post-riot Paris, and attempt to seek closure, while the world around them spirals out of control, and their anger finally has an outlet. 

     La Haine is a film that truly blurs the line between narrative cinema and documentary filmmaking.  The 3 leads feel less like cinematic creations, and more like people you are prone to meet on the street.  When Vinz is quoting DeNiro's famous "Are you talkin' to me?" moment from Taxi Driver, this isn't a simple callback to one of the director's favorite film.  This is a cry out from a frustrated young man, who wants to be that tough guy on screen.  It certainly helps that the actors spent 3 months living in the projects prior to shooting the film, becoming accustomed to this world, the characters that would be playing inside and out.

     We then have the direction from Matthieu Kassovitz who directed the excellent Crimson River, but whose true masterpiece is seen here.  Kassovitz is in absolute control of his skills with La Haine choosing to shoot the film in a handheld-kinetic documentary like style so that we feel a part of the world of these 3 characters, and yet he occasionally reminds us that this is still the cinema with subtle uses of more traditional (and still excellent) camera movements that help accentuate that moments on screen. 

     I have always loved a good political film, and a film based on a suppressed underclass rioting is always sure to have certain socio-economic-political underpinnings, and of course these rise to the forefront quite frequently in La HaIne.  However, I have felt that unlike many political films that feel obligated to hammer the viewer with a message over and over again, La Haine manages to nicely layer it's message into its narrative construct allowing it to come out over the course of the film. 

    La Haine is a wonderful film that manages to grab the audiences attention from the first moment, and manages to keep it there for the duration.  It is a film that does what a good film should do, it entertains, and informs.  For the right type of person, this is the type of film whose images will be lingering in their mind for days after.  It is a film that must be seen, than watched again.


Audio/Video (4.5/5)

     Criterion has presented Mathieu Kassovitz' La Haine in a director supervised 1:85:1  1080p AVC encoded transfer that reflects the films original theatrical aspect ratio.  As the film was supervised by Kassovitz himself, you can say that the La Haine Blu-ray most definitely reflects his vision for that the film should look like.    The black levels are deep and completely solid, contrast is excellent.  There is a nice intact grain structure, and the level of detail is excellent throughout the film.  There is some minor softness during some exterior portions, but this is probably more due to the nature of the production rather than an issue with the transfer itself.

     Criterion has done a similarly excellent job restoring the Audio.  Presenting the film in an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French Language track with Optional English subtitles.  The track itself is excellent quite dynamic in places, and the dialogue is completely audible throughout.  I did not pick up on any audio issue, dropouts, hissing, cracks, or pops on the track.


Extras (5/5)

     Criterion have put together an excellent package of extras for the La Haine Blu-ray.  I do believe that all, or most of these were on the 2007 DVD release of La Haine, however, they are still completely relevant, and make up a nicely comprehensive package for the film.  The disc kicks off with an introduction to the film by actress Jodie Foster who helped to get the film noticed stateside.  We have the making of a scene a 7 minute documentary short, about the making of the scene where Vinz plans to shoot a cop.  This features an interview with Kassovitz.  We then have another short featurette called Preparation for the Shoot which interviews the three primary cast members and Kassovitz as they talk about moving into the projects as a way to get into the mindset for the film.    We then have Social Dynamite a 34 minute documentary about the films social message. 

     We then come to what is probably the centerpiece of the set 10 Years of La Haine a documentary produced by Studio Canal which gives the history of the film from pre-production through shooting, and the films reception, with some background into the events that inspired the film.  There is also a commentary track by Mattheu Kassovitz.  The disc is rounded off by 2 trailers, deleted and extended scenes, and a stills gallery (all in HD).   Criterion have also included an illustrated booklet with 2 essays on the film.



     La Haine is a monumentally brilliant cinematic experience.  Personally speaking it is in my top 10 favorite films of all time, so I do have a tendency to gush over this one.  The Director supervised restoration by Criterion and Kassovitz is absolutely stunning, and the extras although carried over create a truly fantastic package for new and old fans of the film.  EXTREMELY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.