La Haine: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (5th August 2012).
The Film

"La Haine" premiered at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival where it was enamoured with press surrounding the film's controversial themes and content. The filmmakers had hit a nerve with the public and also with officials considering the way Police are portrayed in the film. An "Anti-Police" sentiment grew, but it's important to remember that "La Haine" is not against the police, but rather a commentary on racism, social classes and the tensions that result from a general lack of respect, a product of it's time when France was facing it's own racial tensions with riots breaking out as a result of Police brutality. The film's themes not only echo that turbulent social period in French history but it seems that things do come full circle as the 2005 riots demonstrated (after the ill treatment of several boys under arrest, they were subjected to electrocution which ignited pre-existing tensions in the poor housing estate areas of Paris), asserting the film's relevance ten years after it was made.

"La Haine" covers a 24 hour period in the lives of three youths, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Koundé) after a violent riot in the housing estate. A friend of theirs, Abdel (Abdel Ahmed Ghili) is injured in the riot and is hospitalised, if he dies Vinz swears he'll use a gun found during the riots (a gun that was lost by a Policeman) to kill a cop as revenge, during the course of the day things heat up culminating in a shocking and ambiguous end.

The film presents the issue of societal problems in France with a youthful and tense demeanor, we are strung along by these three hate-filled youths as they spend their day doing nothing, smoking drugs, meeting people and loitering. They encounter harassment from the Police and constantly fight with each other - the gun which Vinz finds being the basis for the in-fighting. The three actors present each character in a naturalistic manner, their skills are so refined for such young (and at the time inexperienced) performers that their dialogue hardly feels scripted at all. Living in the locations where the film was shot also clearly helped to provide more grounded and realistic performances.

Kassovitz uses his film to focus attention on the racism that runs beneath the seams of his country and plays on that concept layering each scene with a tense and uneasy complexity, this keeps the viewer guessing and continually on edge, never knowing when something bad will inevitably occur. The film's tension is meticulous built upon this foundation.

Kassovitz has crafted a modern urban thriller that shares similarities with Spike Lee's 1989 film "Do The Right Thing" but "La Haine" is just as important in its own right. "La Haine" is a masterful piece of work from a then-emerging filmmaking talent and marks one of the most explosive debuts in the areas of direction, cinematography and acting that France has seen in a long time.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 1080p high definition mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. All other Blu-ray releases of this film (French, Dutch, British) have been mastered using VC-1 and this is the first HD release of this film mastered in AVC. I can't comment on the difference since I haven't seen those other releases, but generally speaking AVC seems to handle the compression quality better than VC-1 (at least in this reviewer's opinion as I'm sure some may disagree). The Criterion Collection are know for their transfers, in fact praised for their meticulous work in presenting films in a manner which they were intended. "La Haine" is a film that is gritty and raw, and in every frame the image looks just as such. The black and white photography looks crisp and bright, the grays almost verge on the silver, whites are clean and blacks are inky and deep. The combination leads to a flawless black and white picture. Grain is evident, thankfully Criterion aren't one of those studios that scrub away any evidence that the movie was in fact shot on film. Sharpness looks good especially in close-up shots, while other shots do look a little soft, this isn't particularly a problem as it's not consistent. Depth and detail looks good, shadow detail remains solid, and there's hardly any evidence of print damage, spots, specks, or any other flaws such as edge-enhancement or compression related artifacts.

Audio

Presented in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. The film's audio does a decent job of immersing the viewer, the film's locales and it's unique sounds heard in the neighborhood are all present adding to the ambience. The surround tracks are primarily used to create the environment, while more aggressive scenes also come alive in the surrounds. Dialogue is clear and clean and generally front focused.
Optional subtitles are also included in English.

Extras

"La Haine" was previously released by The Criterion Collection on DVD back in 2007 (and some also appear on Optimum's "Ultimate Edition" DVD released in the UK) and all the excellent supplements had been ported over this film Blu-ray release. They include an audio commentary, two documentaries, a video introduction, two featurettes, a collection of deleted scenes, a stills gallery, two theatrical trailers and a booklet featuring liner notes. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the feature-length audio commentary by the film's director/writer/co-editor/actor Mathieu Kassovitz. This track is recorded in English, Kassovitz comments on the film's themes which are universal and he believes was one of the reasons the film had done so well overseas and many people could relate to it. He also comments on the black and white photography which gives the film a timeless quality as well as shares his thoughts on how difficult it was to make a film with such dark themes in black and white. This certainly posed a challenge to the marketing of the film, as he discusses the influences for the film and his dissatisfaction with the people running his country and the riots that ensued as a result of such dissatisfaction that was shared by many other people as well, fundamentally he pinpointed the Police's lack of respect towards the general public as a main issues and was the guiding theme throughout the film. He tells stories of police brutality and as well as political issues he also provides a decent amount of background on the making of the film revealing stories from the set. Overall it's a very insightful track that informs the viewer on the social situations in France and the impact this film had as a commentary on that situation. Interestingly enough this track also appeared on the Optimum's "Ultimate Edition" DVD released limitedly (10,000 copies) in the UK as well.

The film features a video introduction by actress/filmmaker Jodie Foster (1080i) runs for 14 minutes 51 seconds, Foster was a prominent voice in spreading the word on this film in the U.S. and she offers an excellent introduction to the film and how powerful it is.

"Ten Years of La Haine" (1080i) is a feature-length documentary that runs for 83 minutes 23 seconds. This feature is in French with English subtitles. The doco takes a look at the influences behind the film that revolve around the real life incident of a youth accidentally shot by police in Paris which caused riots. The filmmakers talk about the screenwriting process, as the cast comment on their involvement. They discuss tackling social issues in cinema, how to create tension and the overall genesis of the script to screen and beyond. It's interesting to hear the filmmakers talk about the impact of the film, the shooting process which took the cast and crew to actual housing estates which allowed for the cast to deliver credible performances having spent the time and also living in the flats while shooting. Achieving a sense of realism was key to the film's tone, additionally the feature also looks at some of the standout shots from the film as well as the editing style. Furthermore the doco also takes a closer look at the lead up to the Cannes Film Festival and the controversy the film caused, the reaction to the film and the post-Cannes reaction. This documentary is made of a series of candid interviews cut with footage from the film as well as news media footage and provides an in-depth insight into the making of the film and the various challenges that the filmmakers encountered, it's certainly worth a look.

"Social Dynamite" (1080i), the second documentary on this disc takes a closer look at the film's banlieue setting and includes interviews with sociologists Sophie Body-Gendrot, Jeffrey Fagan, and William Kornblum. Running for 34 minutes, the participants in this feature take a look at life in the banlieue, the difficulties and challenges of the environment as well as offer comparisons to Projects in the U.S.

"Preparing for the Shoot" (1080i) featurette runs for 5 minutes 57 seconds. The director and his three leads are filmed a week before shooting hanging out in the small flat they stayed in during the production, they talk about the scenes, what they hope to achieve but also are seen going a little crazy from the cramped space.

"Making of a Scene" (1080i) featurette that runs for 6 minutes 36 seconds, this clip is in French with non-removable English subtitles and is a combination of fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes footage and also interview footage of the director and the lead cast members as we get a look at the cast and crew shooting the scene where Vinz fantasises about shooting a cop which send him through a window.

Next are a collection of deleted and extended scenes (1080i), presented in color (the film was shot in color and then finished in black and white). The scene all feature an afterward by the film's director as he comments on the scenes, why they were omitted and on his general disappointment in the scenes as they didn't particularly fit with the rest of the finished film. They include:

- "Rooftop Party" runs for 1 minute 1 seconds, afterword by director Mathieu Kassovitz runs for 1 minute 5 seconds.
- "Homeless Man" runs for 37 seconds, afterword by director Mathieu Kassovitz runs for 46 seconds.
- "OCB" runs for 2 minutes 50 seconds, afterword by director Mathieu Kassovitz runs for 29 seconds.
- "Eiffel Tower" runs for 1 minute 29 seconds, afterword by director Mathieu Kassovitz runs for 1 minute 30 seconds.

The disc also features a stills gallery (1080p) that includes some neat behind-the-scenes photos from the production.

Finally the last of the video supplements include the the film's original theatrical trailer #1 (1080i) which runs for 38 seconds and also the film's original theatrical trailer #2 (1080i) which runs for 37 seconds.

Rounding out the supplements is a 24-page booklet, featuring an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau and an appreciation by acclaimed filmmaker Costa-Garvas.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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