La Haine (25th Anniversary Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (29th November 2020).
The Film

"La Haine" (1995)

Following a night of riots after a police beating of a young Arab boy Abdel, three neighborhood friends react with differing reflections. Vinz (played by Vincent Cassel) is an angry Jew hellbent on vengeance, willing to kill a cop if anything worse happens. Hubert (played by Hubert Koundé) is a North African who wants to get out of the ghetto life he has been stuck in. Saïd (played by Saïd Taghmaoui) is an indecisive Arab that is at times a mediator between Vinz and Hubert. The three may have differing backgrounds in race, religion, and personalities, but they've been close friends for many years growing up together, and their hatred against the police and the social systems that surrounds them are one and the same. But during one 24-hour period, their seemingly inconsequential lives as young urban kids are moving toward a darker path...

On April 6, 1993 in Paris, France, Makome M’Bowole, a young kid from Zaire was shot and killed while he was in police custody. Though the police stated it was an accident, Parisians thought enough was enough and took to the streets against the police. This was not the first time that such an incident occurred, as the rioting was an emotional outcry from an accumulation of years of police brutality that hadn't gone unnoticed by the public. Young actor and filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz started writing a script immediately in response to the incident, leading to "La Haine", about three young men from a poor housing project. With a few short films and one feature romantic comedy "Métisse" under his belt, "La Haine" was a huge shift for Kassovitz with ambition and willpower to make a film that was as timely as it would be timeless.

The three characters of "La Haine" serve essential purposes to each other in the story and are one of the most memorable trios in cinema. Vince may be the one with the least amount of trouble, as he is the white kid. Racial profiling is not an issue for him and he is able to slip in and out of places easier than Hubert or Saïd, but there is more going on in his mind being a somewhat "outsider" to the rest of the minorities in the banlieue. He has seen the violence and the happenings around him for all his life, and his emotions are much stronger in wanting to do more rather that sit and take in the unfortunate circumstances. He finds a gun that was lost in the riots the night before, and claims he would use it to kill a police officer if the hospitalized Abdel were to die. The sequence of Vinz talking to himself in the mirror and acting out the infamous "Are you talking to me?" scene from "Taxi Driver" in French places the character's intentions and emotions precisely. He is like a bomb that may blow up at any second if intimidated, and his fuse is always close to being lit. Hubert is the most successful of the three, owning a neighborhood gym which he bought from his earnings in amateur boxing. Unfortunately with the building being partially destroyed by the riots, his outlook on the future is not retaliation for the destruction of his dream, but motivation for him to finally leave the banlieue sooner rather than later. But he has his mother and other relatives to look after, and even with a boxing career, escaping the ghetto is not an easy process. He is the most calm of the three and doesn't let his emotions get carried away. But he is still emotionally affected by the riots and the racism that he faces all the time. Saïd being the smallest of the three can sometimes be at the butt of jokes, as others joke about wanting to get with his sister and being chased around, but he has a good heart and keeps the peace between the three. He wants to fight, but he is always pushed away by others knowing he doesn't physically have what it takes. Whatever they lack within themselves, one of the others make up for the difference to balance each other out. All three are well written and very relatable as young men, with distinct personalities for storytelling and cinema audiences. The three actors use their given names for the characters and there is a piece of themselves displayed on screen. Though all three have had lengthy careers in French and international cinema over the years, when "La Haine" was released they were relative unknowns, giving a hint of documentary-like reality to the subject matter. The dialogue between the characters seemed real, relying on street talk and slang rather than traditional French, and their cadence and rhythm to play off each other come naturally, due to the nature of the actors living together in the banlieue they shot in during pre-production and production, getting used to the environment and each other.

While the performances stand out highly, much has to be noted about the visuals of "La Haine". Kassovitz wanted to shoot the film in black and white from the start, so emphasis could be put on the subject matter more rather than on the color palate. In addition, having a black and white image would not date the production, as black and white would never fade and the film would not feel like a 90s production. The production company was weary of selling a black and white film so a compromise was made to shoot the film in color, have it graded to black and white for prints, and if by chance Canal+ was still unsatisfied with the results, the film could be released in color. Thankfully that never happened and the intended black and white version is the only version to ever be screened. Though the character's fashions, the technology seen and the use of Francs as currency can be easy to date the film, the black and white masks many of those elements and gives a quality that doesn't feel 90s nor does it feel like a film from any particular period. The cinematography by Pierre Aïm is also very fresh in its style. Some sequences use very long takes with a moving Steadicam to give a sense of the location. There are shots of extremely slow tracking that feels close to being still. Camera speeds are played within a shot, starting at 24fps and switching suddenly to slow motion with a high framerate. There are multiple shots that are incredibly memorable. The molotov cocktail igniting the Earth in the opening. The helicopter shot over the banlieue with DJ Cut Killer on the turntables before drone shots became a norm in cinema. The ingenious trick shot of Vinz in the mirror by himself. The track and zoom shot of the three characters in Paris. The social commentary and characters may be the most important aspect, but for anyone that comes away from seeing "La Haine" and not being mesmerized by the cinematography, they are obviously lying.

It's also interesting to note that "La Haine" has no score, but instead relies on existing music tracks which most of the time play within the scenes through radios and speakers rather than a separate cinematic element. The opening track "Burnin' and Lootin'" by Bob Marley is as perfect as it comes when pairing it with the riot footage. Tracks from Isaac Hayes, Cameo, The Gap Band and many more also stand strong but the most impressive is the DJ Cut Killer sequence in which rival French rap groups Suprême NTM and Assassin were mixed together along with vocals of KRS-One, Beastie Boys and Édith Piaf for a twist of history. The musical selections were rebellious, funky, and powerful using a mix of hip hop, soul, reggae and more for the soundtrack.

"La Haine" may at glance seem like an anti-police movie. The police are mostly generic characters and the ones that are given time are racist, pushy, and merciless for the most part. They appear in riot gear to stand around. The plainclothes officers stop people randomly. It never feels quite safe for the three main characters as the world is seen through their eyes. They have no reason to trust authority as the authority has shown no sign of respect towards them. In the sequence that Hubert and Saïd are arrested in Paris and are physically and mentally tortured by the officers in highly disturbing since they are showing a newcomer that it is "fine" to push to the limits in interrogating the arrested, applying painful force on the two while enjoying seeing them struggle and suffer. Rather than "anti-police", it is "anti-police tactics" where the ones in power abuse their status as men of the law. The film may be set in France, but the struggles of dealing with corrupt police is all too familiar in many countries around the world, and not just in the 90s, but years later including the similar incidents happening in America in the 21st century, with Black Lives Matter protests and senseless deaths of people like George Floyd and Brianna Taylor to name just a few from 2020. People have been able to protest against the horrible outcomes of these unfortunate killings under the police, yet there are still people who cannot see the affect and the reasoning for the Black Lives Matter protests with counteractive slogans like "All Lives Matter" are clearly not understanding the purpose. These are the same type of people who criticized "La Haine" for being an anti-police film because they were seeing something they didn't like - the reality from the victim's point of view. It's small to think that one film could change society around the world. There are many that saw the film and felt a profound impact, but it takes much more in government, police, and citizens to all move towards a better world, and the ultimate message of "La Haine" is that the cycle will inevitably continue unfortunately.

"La Haine" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 27, 1995. The reaction was universally positive and Kassovitz received the Best Director prize at the young age of 27, which was the same age that François Truffaut won the same award in 1959 for "The 400 Blows". Opening around the world throughout 1995 and 1996, the film struck a chord with arthouse filmgoers and critics worldwide for its fresh and unique style with a scathing and heavy social message, and with 2 million in ticket sales in France alone, it was a certified smash. At the 1996 César Awards, the film was nominated for eleven awards and picked up three wins, for Best Film, Best Producer for Christophe Rossignon and Best Editing. It also won Best Film and Best Director at the Lumiere Awards and more at other festivals and ceremonies around the world. It's been 25 years since the film's releases and the impact it had on its first release is still as strong as it ever was. Unfortunately unnecessary violence from law enforcement still exists around the world. Racial profiling, unfair treatment against people of color has not been eradicated. In many ways, "La Haine" is not a film that makes audiences look at what the ghettos of France was like a quarter of a century ago, but a mirror to the world of now. We can all hope for something better in the years to come. But it won't be a surprised if unnecessary killings by police continued to be a normal situation on the film's fiftieth anniversary.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original 35mm camera negative was restored in 4K by Le Pacte and Hiventy for the 25th anniversary. The color film was graded to black and white and the transfer was supervised by director of photography Pierre Aïm. "La Haine" has always looked quite good on home video releases in the past, but comparing the new 4K restoration with the older releases side by side does show quite a difference. The most noticeable difference is the grey scale being improved, with background details, closeups on faces being very well defined, while still keeping deep blacks and bright whites on the opposing spectrums. Stability has also been improved, with minor flickering from previous releases being smoothened, plus the cleanup of the image has left it spotless from dust, debris, and other anomalies while still keeping the film grain intact. Note that the opening credits which was taken from video tape sources and graded to black and white still looks very murky but that is to be expected. And incredibly strong transfer for an incredibly strong film.

The film's runtime is 97:38.

Audio

French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French LPCM 2.0 stereo

The original 2.0 stereo track as well as the 5.1 remix are both available. The sound design was another defining point in the film with its use of accompanying music tracks played as well as the use of panning sounds between the left and right channels in certain sequences, plus the film turning to mono for the Paris sequences. There were 5.1 tracks available on previous DVDs and Blu-rays but this seems to have been mixed slightly differently. Some of the surround effects that were overly loud in previous versions have been lowered to a more balanced level, and the most noticeable is the famous helicopter scene. In older DVDs and Blu-rays the music was overly loud especially in the left surround, but here on the BFI disc, the music is better balanced and somewhat more natural sounding. Dialogue is always clear and without dropouts or other problems and is well balanced against the music and effects.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

This is a 2-disc Blu-ray set with the film and some extras on the first disc and additional extras on the second.

DISC ONE

Audio commentary by Mathieu Kassovitz
In this commentary recorded for the 2004 UK DVD from Optimum Releasing, Kassovitz recalls the production from start to finish, from the pre-production process, shooting and living in the estates, the choices for music, having a young crew on the production, the use of black and white, and much more. Over the years, Kassovitz has recorded possibly a record number of commentaries for a single film with five altogether for “La Haine”. Three were recorded in French, in 1999 as heard on the 2001 French DVD, in 2005 for the 10thAnniversary French DVD (which also included the 1999 commentary), and in 2020 for the 25th Anniversary French UHD and Blu-ray (which also includes the previous two commentaries). Two were recorded in English, in 2004 and also in 2006 for the US Criterion Collection DVD and later upgraded to Blu-ray.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Redefining Rebellion" featurette (4:47)
In this new visual essay, film critic Kaleem Aftab discusses about the importance of focusing on the banlieue, the relationships of the characters, the use of hip hop, rebellion, and more. This features clips from the film while the essay is spoken in English. This was originally available on the BFI YouTube channel, and has been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in English/French LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles



"Screen Epiphany: Riz Ahmed Introduces La Haine" featurette (13:54)
In this new remote interview with actor Riz Ahmed, he recalls his first time watching the film on television and the impact it had on him then as well as how the film stands now as a reflection of what was not often seen in European cinema at the time. He also discusses the relevancy of the film even 25 years after its release on its take on police brutality, poverty, and race relations. Ahmed's comments are in English while clips of the film are in French with burned-in subtitles. This was originally available on the BFI YouTube channel, and has been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in English/French LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles



2020 Interview with Mathieu Kassovitz (35:26)
Moderated by Kaleem Aftab, Kassovitz is interviewed remotely during the pandemic lockdown. Discussed are the relationship of the three main characters, the limited shooting in the Paris scenes, the decision to shoot in black and white, the importance of the title, and much more. This was originally available on the BFI YouTube channel, and has been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles



25th Anniversary Trailer (1:37)
This newly edited trailer for the 4K restoration is possibly one of the best reissue trailers ever with its use of key shots, editing, music, and creative use of digitally placing names, quotes, and the title in between the figures rather than placed on top. The trailer has also been embedded below.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles




DISC TWO

Short Films (with Play All) (30:24)
- "Fierrot le pou" (7:35)
- "Cauchemar blanc" (10:31)
- "Assassins" (12:17)

Kassovitz’s first three short films are presented here. 1990’s “Fierrot le pou”, shot in black and white and without dialogue, features Kassovitz himself as a nerdy kid shooting hoops in a gym trying to impress a girl who is clearly much better than him at basketball. 1991’s “Cauchemar blanc” which was also shot in black and white is an adaptation of a comic by Moebius, with a group of racist thugs out to cause violence, but end up in some awkward and problematic moments of their own…or so it seems. 1992’s “Assassins” also stars Kassovitz, as a first time assassin having to learn the tricks of the trade by making a mark with his first kill, which doesn’t go very smoothly. The short was filmed in color, and later was adapted into Kassovitz’s feature film “Assassin(s)” in 1997. The three shorts come from standard definition masters so they do have their weaknesses. The image is slightly blurry and damage marks can be found, though they are in a watchable state and audio sounds fairly good on all three shorts.
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 ("Fierrot le pou") / 1.66:1 ("Cauchemar blanc"/"Assassins"), in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"10 Years of La Haine" documentary (83:30)
Produced by Studio Canal to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the film in 2005, this feature length documentary features retrospective interviews with many of the original cast and crew reflecting on the production and its impact it had. There is new footage of riots following the murder of Makome M'Bowole in 1993, behind the scenes footage and rarely seen color footage, along with new interview footage graded as black and white. There are a lot of great stories to be heard here, including getting the trust of the people living in the estates where the production was filmed, some of the difficult sequences to shoot, the one shot where digital effects had to be used, the lead up to the Cannes premiere, the controversies, the aftermath, and more.
in 720p 50Hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles

"Casting and Rehearsals" featurette (18:39)
Casting and rehearsal footage shot on VHS and graded in black and white feature Karim Belkladra, Frédéric Diefenthal, Gad El Maleh, Benoit Magimel, Edouard Montoute, and Sébastien Tave.
in 720p 50Hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles

"Anatomy of a Scene" featurette (6:37)
A behind the scenes look at the sequence of the police officer crashing through the glass is shown with Kassovitz explaining on set about the storyboarding, the preparation, and the process. There are also behind the scenes footage as well as the rarely seen color footage.
in 720p 50Hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"Behind the Scenes" featurette (5:53)
A series of shots of the cast and crew basically goofing around and talking rather than actual work behind the scenes of shooting is presented here.
in 720p 50Hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Colour Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Play All Scenes (17:21)
- Play Selected Scenes with afterwords by Mathieu Kassovitz (10:11)

A series of scenes including a post-rooftop sequence, extended scenes in Paris on the subway and in the streets, the breakdancers and more are presented in the originally shot color film without grading. Clapper boards and some fooling around can be seen as well as the scenes are not edited for completion. There is an option to see all the scenes together which unfortunately has no chapter stops. There is a second option to see four of the deleted scenes along with comments by Kassovitz about the scenes and why they were shot and deleted. The scenes are from a non-anamorphic standard definition source so the image is windowboxed. The scenes are in French with burned-in English subtitles. The afterwords segments with Kassovitz are in full 1.78:1 and in English.
in 720p 50Hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1/1.78:1, in French/English LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles

Trailer 1 (0:29)
Trailer 2 (0:38)

Two original French teaser trailers are presented, with the first having Hubert’s monologue, while the second having no dialogue and the tense sound of the ticking clock.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Book
An 80 page book is also included in the set. First is a statement by Kassovitz from 1995. Next is film professor Ginette Vincendeau's new essay "From La Haine to Les Misérables: Return to the Banlieue". A text interview with Kassovitz by Kaleem Aftab which was first published in the May 2020 issue of Sight & Sound follows. "The Sound and the Fury: Rap, Reggae and Resistance in La Haine" by film critic Steph Green, which also appeared in the May 2020 issue of Sight & Sound. "After the Riot" by film critic Keith Reader is next, which was first published in the November 1995 issue of Sight & Sound. Kaleem Aftab's essay "Going Around the Houses" is the following new essay. Critic Chris Drake's original 1995 review of the film from Sight & Sound is also reprinted here. Short 1995 press book text interviews with director Kassovitz, actors Cassel, Koundé, and Taghmaoui and producer Rossignon are also reprinted. There are also film credits, special features information, transfer information, stills, and acknowledgements rounding out the hefty book.


"La Haine" has already seen a Blu-ray release once before in the UK by Optimum Releasing, which was supposed to be an upgrade from their DVD edition but was far from it. The many extras from the 10th Anniversary Special Edition DVD was dropped and the Blu-ray was a completely barebones release. Universal and Studio Canal issued their Blu-ray in an identical edition in France, Germany, Japan, and other countries which also was completely bare in the extras department. It was finally in 2010 that The Criterion Collection in the US upgraded their DVD of the film to Blu-ray, which thankfully ported all their DVD extras over, including their exclusive commentary and featurettes. This BFI release gathers many of the previously released DVD extras plus adds some new exclusive extras for a feature packed set that is hard to beat. In addition, Studio Canal in France just this month issued the 4K restoration of the film on a 4K UHD + Blu-ray set, which carries three commentary tracks but for some reason drops all the other vintage extras.

Overall

"La Haine" is undoubtedly one of the best films ever made, with excellent characters in the leads, a visually astonishing look, and a fresh yet timeless feel that only becomes more relevant in the more recent years with its social message. The BFI's release is an excellent one with an excellent transfer of the 4K restoration with a great selection of new and vintage extras. Easily one of the best releases of the year.

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

 


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