LA HAINE was the toast of Cannes when it premiered in 1995. It won Mathieu Kassovitz the best director award at the festival and changed the face of French film forever.
Brutal, bleak and believable, it tells the tale of the shooting of a young Arab boy in the culturally barren mean streets of the sink-hole housing estates that lie outside the picture postcard allure of the French capital – those dark avenues and alleyways where tourists fear to tread and even the locals don't venture out alone in.
Set in the 24 hours following the event, it brings us the jaundiced world view of three friends – one black, one Jewish and one North African – who are disgusted with the police brutality they face day in and day out and feel fully disconnected from mainstream society as a result of.
Plot wise, La Haine is limited, but the insight it offers into life in the French 'banlieue', or suburbs, is profound. The central performers Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde and Said Taghmaoui – who all play characters using their own first names – are uniformly superb and the racial tension they face on those dark, unwelcoming streets grows continuously throughout.
It's a resolutely male film, there is little room for a female perspective here, but those themes of alienation and hopelessness are truly universal.
A rare insight into the concrete wastelands faced by millions it was a game changer in many ways. Rarely had the graffiti strewn walls of Europe's inner city ghettos been captured with such authenticity and Kassovitz packaged up that classic sense of alienation and rebellion with beautifully stark black and white visuals and a pounding hip-hop soundtrack that underlines the urban reality with real force.
An uncompromising film – remember, a black and white offering with subtitles was a tough sell in 1995 – it still found a global audience beyond the traditional foreign language 'art house' market and a cult reputation that continues to grow to this day.
Up there with stateside offerings like Do The Right Thing and Mean Streets, this is a film about growing up in difficult circumstances which transcends language and racial background. The lead actors and Kassovitz would go on to enjoy successful cinematic careers, although the director never again reached the heights he hit here. With a film as perfectly self-contained and lean as La Haine that's hardly surprising really.
Released in a limited edition double-disc Blu-ray set by the BFI and available to download via the BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon Prime, La Haine remains a powerful piece of work that has lost little of its power to shock and surprise despite the passing of two-and-half decades.
The extras on this anniversary re-release include an enlightening English language commentary track from Kassovitz himself and a selection of video essays and short films examining La Haine's historical importance and the impact it has had a new generation of realist film makers in France and beyond.
The addition of an 80 page book with some fine writing on the film's making and social significance, plus a rare interview with Kassovitz, make this package an essential purchase.