By Dominic Antill

On the eve of the London mayoral election Future Cinema will screen the Mathieu Kassovitz film, 17 years old, in Tottenham, where the riots of last summer spawned copycat action throughout the country. 

Why a French film that’s probably older than most of the perpetrators of the riots last year I hear you ask? Well, for starters, it is arguably a more accurate depiction of the social/urban inflictions young people experience today than any equivalent movie, certainly compared to more crude British counterparts. 

Set after the Parisian riots from as far back as 1986 to 96, there were riots whilst they were shooting.  The story follows a day in the life of three boys from the slums on the peripheries of Paris both geographically and socially. Within those three we see the racially supressed established in: Vinz (Jewish), Said (North African) and Hubert (Black). 

After Abdel, a friend was severely injured by police in the riots the story picks up on how the community responded to the riots, seemingly alienating them further from majority. Some seek revenge, some just want to get on and some want to get out. 

Within the parameters set we see some intriguing characters juxtaposed against each other and seemingly against everyone else.  Vinz (Vincent Cassell) is brash, annoying and aggressive; he is the perennial wannabe renegade, the hate; typified when he recreates the famous ‘you talkin’ to me’ scene from Taxi Driver.  Indeed he desperately wants recognition (for different reasons) as DeNiro does, but doesn’t have the conviction despite the acquisition of a policeman’s gun giving him giving him the opportunity to exact revenge for Abdel.

Said (Said Taghmaoui) has similar aspirations as Vinz but is far more level headed and cautious about confrontation, he often has to find his way in between the two opposing pillars of Vinz and Hubert. Often resulting in him getting the raw end of the deal he consistently has to go with the flow. That said, in another reference this time to Scarface “The World is Yours” posted on a billboard, Said subtly (with a spray can), changes it to “The World is Ours”. Perhaps the most poignant message made, on face value it could be taken as a simple affront from the social undesirables, or a clamour for change and unity.

The final character Hubert (Hubert Kounde) is the antithesis of Vinz, introduced monotonously hitting a punch-bag with rioters having trashed his gym. His is an uphill struggle that always comes back, no matter how hard he fights back.  Trying his best to get out of their desperate situation it is his ethnicity that gives him leverage on the street whilst also being the one thing that will always deny him of his single aspiration. 

The film is set in black and white to contrast its anti-establishment story that in doing so conveys a sense of timelessness despite being bound heavily by the parameters of time. The moral ambiguities raised in the film are similarly contrasted in what many would bracket a story as black or white, this film does its very best to convey the extremities racially, socially and politically whilst hopefully leaving the viewer somewhere in the grey. 

From the opening credits with Bob Marley ‘Burnin an Lootin’ to Edith Piaf ‘Non Je Ne Regrette Rien’ remixed with KRS-One’s ‘Sound of the Police’ the film clarifies the setting and unsympathetically puts you right in the middle of it. 

With the opening scenes depicting live footage of the riots Kassovitz almost frames the film as a documentary, whatever way you look at it; life on the estate seems as far away from the urban glamour it is attributed with now – with La Haine it feels genuine. 

Will the kids on Broadwater Farm estate get it? If they are anything like Vinz, they won’t, but perhaps, sadly of all, just as the film makes its final plea for solidarity, it may make little difference.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.