From Paris with Love
[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B002BD9DS4][/pullquote] Films that typify the urban realm and do justice to representing particular cities are few are far between. Cities in film are often shiny facades of nothingness, backgrounds on which the story can play out. Notable exceptions are of course The Warriors, City of God and Collateral, where the city (New York, Rio and LA respectively) is very much part of the fabric of the film.
In these films, the city is more than a visual landscape to be interacted with, it is a character in itself “ it plays the leading role. La Haine falls very much into that category with Paris, and it’s social, racial and political tensions taking centre stage. It is certainly not the loved-up romance capital that it is made up to be in say, Midnight in Paris or even Amelie.
Using real footage of Parisian riots in the opening scene, La Haine (translated as ˜Hate’) the film tells the story of a group of three young, disenfranchised residents of a Parisian banlieue, Vince, Herbert and Said, all representing three of the main minority groups in France, Jewish, African and Middle Eastern immigrants. There have been riots in their community recently, and the police have put a friend of theirs into a coma, and Vince, having found a policeman’s gun lost during the riots, promises to kill a policeman if their friend dies, which he inevitably does. The three friends pontificate about revenge and try to amuse and occupy themselves in the deprived area of the banlieue, lamenting their social standing, with Vince particularly aggressive to people they come across.
A scene that typifies the social situation that the film is attempting to critique depicts a news crew driving by and attempt to interview the three men and ask if they were involved in the riots. Vince barks back at them telling them to ˜go away’ (although less politely) proclaiming This isn’t Thoiry (which is a French safari park). The three friends then find a way into central Paris where they continue to amble around the city, being confronted by situations that are alien to them. They are rounded up and beaten seemingly without cause by the police, and as a result miss the last train back home.
The three men then continue to stroll the streets of central Paris, gate-crashing an art gallery event. Their social status is clear to all in attendance and they are soon ejected when they begin to behave in a manner not suitable to their surroundings. They then find themselves on a rooftop abusing some neo-Nazi skinheads. However, they then run into the same group of skinheads a little later at street level. Said and Hubert are beaten savagely which provokes Vince to draw the policeman’s gun on the skinheads. He is stopped from shooting them however, and instead allows them to flee. Upon arrival back in the banlieue early the next morning, they are spotted by a plain-clothes police officer that they insulted earlier in the film. Vince is grabbed and threatened by the policeman at gunpoint. The gun accidently goes off, killing Vince instantly. Hubert confronts the policeman with Vince’s gun, they stand off and then a shot is heard, but the screen goes black before telling us whether it was Hubert or the police officer who was shot.
The film is a clear critique of the social, economic and political situations of Paris in the late 90s (and still persist today). Paris itself though is used brilliantly “ not through lingering ˜hero’ shots of the Eiffel Tower (which features very minimally), but through the personal interactions between people of different social standings and the three friends’ difficulty in navigating the city. The film is shot in black and white mirroring the real footage of the riots. There are long lingering shots of the banlieue and long periods of silence where the three friends simply exist. Such scenes are expertly crafted to instigate a feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness; scenes in which the city itself is glaringly apparent. The whole film is set within a 24-hour period (roughly), which adds to the feelings of entrapment in a place and time that you cannot escape. Much like the three protagonists and their inability to escape their social situations, you as the viewer are drawn into their futility.
There is also some exquisite dialogue with subtle subtexts. One scene in particular stands out, which sees the three friends in a public toilet in Paris debating whether they will use their gun to kill a policeman or not. All of a sudden, an elderly man appears from one of the stalls and proceeds to regale to the three friends the story of his old friend ˜Grunwalski’ who died trying to go to the toilet on a train. A wonderfully esoteric scene that leaves the three friends, along with the viewers bewildered as to the story’s meaning. Did the old man hear the friends talking before and was cryptically warning them to think again? Was it an existential story of our own futile attempts to navigate the city? Or was it simply an old man rambling on to anyone who will listen? Either way, it is a compelling scene.
Vincent Cassel plays Vince with a visceral rawness that makes him a genuinely scary and unhinged individual. His ˜Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver’ scene at the beginning of the film is superbly performed. The director, Mathieu Kassovitz has expertly crafted an atmosphere of helplessness, and visually depicted a narrative of the violent, oppressive and marginalising forces of French urban society.