La Haine (Mathieu Kassowitz, 1994)

Written and Directed by Mathieu Kassowitz

Director of Photography, Pierre Aim

Editor, Mathieu Kassovitz and Scott Stevenson

Sound,  Vincent Tulli

Said (Said Taghmaoui)

Vinz (Vincent Cassell)

Hubert (Hubert Kounde)


La Haine is packed with sharp street humour, intense action and brutally brilliant camera work. Police viciously beat a 16 year old housing estate kid they are questioning, leaving him almost dead. Responding to violence, teenagers from the estate turn their home into a 24 hour war zone. Among the people blinded by hate are Said, Vinz and Hubert, youths who survive on petty crime and dealing dope. In the intensely volatile environment, the teenagers find a chrome-plated Smith and Wesson .44 that a plain clothes cop has lost. If killing a cop with his own gun doesn’t express their rage what will? This tragic story evoked the French Cabinet to commission a special screening to see what they were up against on the streets of Paris.

La Haine deals with young people’s lives on the housing estates on the outskirts of Paris and, in particular, the relationship of young people with the police. (La Haine means ‘hate’ which is what the youth feel about the police.) Mathieu Kassovitz, the writer / director, is a young Jewish Frenchman who feels that he has an affinity for these communities. The three central characters come from three minority groups – Jewish, Arab and African French. In America, La Haine has been compared to Boyz N the Hood because of the important central role the gun plays and also to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) when a minor racial conflict gets out of hand. It has also been compared to Trainspotting and to the films of Ken Loach (a filmmaker who is popular in France).

La Haine a small, low budget film, was very successful at the box office and was highly praised by critics. It had an extended run in cinemas in France and was shown to the French Cabinet as an example of how young people felt. Mathieu Kassovitz won the Cannes best director prize in 1995.

Empire magazine, December 1995, describes the film as:

a ‘message’ picture, so hyper realistic and visceral that the estate’s claustrophobia and the no hope scenario of its youthful population filter through like a scream.

‘an urban nightmare that’s shot like a dream’ Premiere

‘A brutally brilliant masterpiece of 90’s cinema’ NME

In an interview Kassovitz explained that the film was provoked by the death in police custody of a young banllieusard (suburb dweller): ‘What I wanted to do was tell the story of a guy who gets up in the morning and by the evening has got himself killed.’ 

La Haine unfolds over a troubled 24 hours, an uneasy morning-after calm having settled on the estate where Vinz, Said and Hubert live. A police weapon lost during the rioting the night before is in Vinz’s hands and becomes the film’s dramatic motor. The film explores the growing tension within the trio of friends. Vinz is an explosive, impetuous character, a loose cannon who threatens to explode at any moment. The camerawork echoes the edginess of the group moving them on wherever they happen to come to r

Comment on aspects of the camerawork that you particularly notice during the film. What gives it a documentary feel and how does the camera convey the mounting tension between the friends and in the world that they inhabit?

The film presents itself in a documentary style; there is also an authentic sense of detail which adds dimension to this particular genre.

Identify the detail in the film which gives the audience a sense of place and an authenticity about the young boys’ lives.

The trio travel into Paris on an increasingly nightmarish journey. One of the slogans that we see is ‘Le monde est a vous’ (the world belongs to you) which they change to read ‘a nous’ (to us). The irony here is that Paris does not belong to them – it becomes an increasingly bleak assault course ending up with their brutal treatment in police custody.

Pick out two of three ‘nightmarish’ moments which are emphasised by the camerawork.

State how the camera angles and the framing add to their dark experiences.

The three boys try to pick up some young, sophisticated women at an art gallery but clumsily find themselves out of their depth and they then react violently and offensively. This incident underlines their isolation both within the relationships they have with each other and the violent relationship that they have with the police. These are strong themes throughout the film.


American popular culture has had attention from the French left and artistic community since the 1920s. As in A Bout de Souffle American culture is very important in La Haine. There are frequent references to it in La Haine such as the guns, the music and posters in Hubert’s bedroom and Vinz’s recreation of a famous scene from Taxi Driver (1976).

What others can you identify?

What is their significance in the film?


1. What is the central theme of La Haine? Is the film concerned with race? Is it significant that the three central characters are from three different ethnic groups?

2. Do we see them as types or as fully-rounded characters?

3. How does the music in the film and the camerawork make the film a youth film? Is the success of the film bound up with these two aspects?

4. The time span of the film is a day. How does this affect the tension and behaviour of the characters? Does it affect the way we read the film?

5. Is our understanding of the community increased by the film’s portrayal of these three main characters? Is our understanding of French and male culture increased?

La Haine – opening sequences task

‘Kassovitz combats the inertia and boredom of his frustrated antagonists with a thrusting, jiving camera style which harries and punctuates their rambling, often very funny dialogue.’ Time Out Film Guide, 2000

Do the opening sequences of the film give us a sense of this camera style?

Can you find examples?

Do we get any flavour of this kind of dialogue?

What do we see immediately the film begins?

What are the sounds that we hear?

Why does the filmmaker go directly to newsreel footage?

What effect does this have on us, the audience?

How does it form our expectations?

Are we able to say at this point what kind of film this is? If so, what are the clues that we have already been given?

Why does the filmmaker remind us of time passing by giving us a regular time check?

Where do we meet the three friends?

What information does the location give us about them?


What is the purpose of the following:

The exploding petrol bomb hitting the earth from space?

The Ticking clock?

The Opening Narration?

The homage to American culture and films

The Monochrome cinematography

The Edith Piaf / NWA Sound sequence

The Surreal cow sequence

The riot footage & The Bob Marley song Burning and Looting.

The torture sequence

The Visit to Snoopy’s apartment

The Eiffel Tower sequence

The World is yours billboard?

The art gallery visit

The imaginary shooting of the traffic cop

The Ending

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