There are many reasons why I loved La Haine but I feel I’ve spent enough time writing about my favorite films so I will just let this Micro Analysis Essay that I wrote as a college project explain some of the key elements that I felt made the film as interesting as it is. (disclaimer*spoilers all through) La Haine is a 1995 Art-house Drama film written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. It is has been referred to by NME as a “beautiful and blistering piece of 90s cinema”. La Haine is an expression of Kassovitz’s attitudes towards social class, economic and political ideologies and the rift between figures of authority and individuals in the deprived banlieues of Paris. The cinematography in La Haine is poetic; the black and white makes the film an artistic interpretation of what could be called a “Hood” film. The cinematography also fully displays raw emotion as well as the kinetic energy of the characters and their surroundings. The film immerses the audience into the world of its unlikely protagonists through its innovative photographic elements especially the use of black and white, which stylized and heightened social realism. The first character we meet is Said; he is framed in mid-shot and the focus is shallow. The camera slowly tracks towards Said changing the framing from mid-shot to a big close up shot of him looking nervously into the camera.
The slow movement of the shot draws the audience into the character. The slow pace and change of framing in this shot also represents simmering tensions between police and the young people of that Parisian ghetto as the film progresses. The shot then reverses to the back Said’s head and cranes over him whilst shifting focus to his foreground. This shift function then reveals to the audience that he is standing in front of the police station with a line of officers guarding the station. This shot immerses the audience into Said’s perspective; the police create a barrier between the station and Said, and I feel that to Said this appears as if the police value the station building and protect it as if it were the home of the French president.
The police and the government in this context are figures that represent corruption, oppression and cause brutality. To Said this means war between the police and the people of the ghetto. The police are framed in mid-shot and there is a crab track movement during that shot close enough for the audience to see their stern expressions. These shots are symbolic of the confrontations that later happen in the film; they emphasize that the young people in the film are afraid of the authorities, and when it cuts to Said tagging a police van its a further implication that the only way these young people will try and be heard is through rebelling. The way we are introduced to Said is important in establishing his character. During the film Said is the one who has the most direct confrontations with the police. We return to this motif at the end of the film, and again Said has to confront a police officer and an unpredictable situation. The style of the camera movement on Said during these confrontations is a key signifier of his characterization. Repeating it at the end gives the film a bookend structure and it gives the audience a sense of who Said is. Behind all his humorous and fun qualities Said is afraid, he wants a way out and he is also burning with feelings of anger and hate.
The next shot shows Said going to look for his friend Vinz.There is a low-angle mid shot of Said interacting with other characters, which is followed by a telegraph shot of the character on the high window. These shots are metonymic of the arguments that recur between younger and older characters. During the film we see a lot of instances of this motif where the older occupants of that community express their anger towards the younger characters because they blame them for starting the riots. The composition and framing of this shot communicates these feelings of disappointment and hostility towards the youths. The trees also form a barrier between Said and the older character we see in the apartment building. The composition not only establishes the physical distance between them, but also connotes that the two characters have distant ideas. While Said believes the police and the system are the root of the problems in the ghetto, the older character believes the youths are the gangsters and they cause all the problems. The camera position however privileges Said because it aligns us the audience with him; which makes the audience to more likely empathize with Said’s ideas.
The next scene introduces the central character Vinz. He is framed in full shot; the camera is static, which contrasts with his actions in the sequence. We see him perform an energetic street style dance beneath a massive directional light. The top directional light resembles a spotlight this I think communicates the idea that as the main character most of the confrontations will occur because of him. He is surrounded by darkness and only one fluorescent light shines on him one while he seems happy in the darkness, this image carries with it a lot of ideas about Vinz as a character. He is troubled, he may be dangerous and the empty and dark condition of the location chosen may also be suggesting to the audience that he has been jailed, and he enjoys being in that dark place. In Vinz’s case we later learn that he dreams of being jailed in order to have a better street reputation. This is revealed as a dream sequence when the scene cuts to a shot of Vinz sleeping on his bed. This dance is an important element of the film, and the characterization of Vinz. His dance at this particular spot is important because we later find out that it is where he hid the gun that he found that was lost by a police officer the night before. Vinz felt that finding the gun would help him avenge the potential death of his friend. That shot allows the audience to look into Vinz’s subconscious and understand that this is where he feels happy, the idea of having the gun made him feel powerful, and hopeful that he will conquer by retaliating with this gun. In Vinz’s dreams the audience is given the opportunity to assess who he wants to be and what he wants to do. Kassovitz returns to this motif of Vinz character towards the end of the film when we see him dream about shooting an officer at the train station after finding out that his friend has died.
The view of Vinz lying on his bed is shot in deep focus and deep staging. Vinz in the foreground, the chair in the middle ground and Sayid in the background are all in focus. This I believe was a stylistic decision, the shot is low angled and the widescreen lens used exaggerated the space making the room seem bigger than it is. Although the angle is low, it does not make Said look intimidating, the wide screen shot exaggerates the room size but also makes Said look diminutive and Vinz look bigger and more intimidating. The shot is also a reference to the relationship between the two characters. Said is Vinz’s friend, but he is smaller because Said is more a follower while Vinz is the leader of their group. The use of deep staging may have also been an intertextual reference to the use of deep space in this famous scene from Citizen Kane. The composition of the shots are similar and the most influential character in film is placed directly in front of the screen while the others of equal importance are seen clearly approaching from behind.
The scene concludes with two very distinct intertexual references, Vinz the main character is in his bathroom, looking into the mirror and reciting the famous “you talking to me” monologue from Taxi Driver. In Vinz’s background we see a tropical poster this is a reference to the character Tony Montana in Scarface who is as confrontational Vinz is in this scene. The camera tracks toward the mirror and changes the framing from medium shot to a close up shot were it becomes still. Vinz speaks directly to camera, breaking the fourth wall to directly address to the viewer. Referencing the two films and addressing the audience provokes us to ask whether Vinz is acting out a cultural fantasy of power or is genuinely a threatening and confrontational individual. This scene determines the tone of the entire film, the camera movement, the characters as well as Vinz’s dialogue signify characters in the film feeling oppressed and feeling obligated to rebel against the oppressors. Vinz’s monologue makes in apparent to the audience that there are a lot of issues at hand that will take a lot of struggles in order to overcome them.