Haine, La [1995]

It's easy to see why La Haine had such an explosive effect when it was released in France; its potent portrait of racial discord and life in the housing projects outside of Paris is at odds with France's egalitarian vision of itself. This impact wouldn't have lasted, however, were the movie purely a political statement; fortunately, it's a riveting journey that follows three unemployed young men (Said Taghmaoui, Hubert Kounde, and Vincent Cassel) as they wander and try to decide what to do with the gun that one of them has found. This simple scenario results in a remarkably complex examination of race, class, violence, and the abuse of power in modern society, yet never feels preachy or forced. Hugely influenced by American directors like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee (particularly Do the Right Thing), La Haine riffs through different styles and techniques, yet the movie feels organic and whole, driven by a genuinely passionate point of view. Dynamic, reckless, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle (and sometimes both; in one scene, Hubert and Said have been picked up by the police, who torture them for kicks. But watching the abuse is a rookie cop whose face quietly ripples with dismay, helplessness, and resignation), this is a must-see. As is usual with Criterion releases, the extra features are excellent, including an in-depth but accessible documentary about the housing projects and riots that inspired the film, retrospective material on the making of the movie, behind-the-scenes horseplay, intriguing deleted scenes (with brief but revealing explanations about the deletion from director Mathieu Kassovitz), and a wonderfully articulate introduction by Jodie Foster, who championed the film upon its release and distributed it through her production company. The audio commentary by Kassovitz, who's fluent in English, is circumspect and thoughtful, with flashes of sardonic humor. Kassovitz's directing career has turned decidedly less political (his more recent movies include The Crimson Rivers and Gothika), but his perspective on La Haine and its inspirations remains sharp and lucid. --Bret Fetzer

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