Original release: May 31, there 1995
Running time: 98 minutes
Writer and director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui
6am 01:30:32 to 01:32:56
Open endings are a divisive tool that can leave an audience enraged, frustrated, gasping for breath, shocked, disappointed or yearning for more. Some have the power to leave you thinking about a film for days, months, or even years; desperate to know what happened as the credits rolled. They give us the opportunity to create our own ending, to imagine a possible sequel, to discuss the possibilities of what happened to the characters after the final scene.
I used to hate open endings. The only tolerable type were in a film like Back To The Future where the film was wrapped up nicely but then the writer throws in a final twist for us to crave a sequel… ‘where we’re going we don’t need roads!’. That’s fine; the ending had satisfying resolution but then there’s a teaser that promises a new story with the same characters.
But then there are other open endings where so many questions are left unanswered that it drives us mad for years after seeing the film. There’s no real sense of resolution and sometimes it almost feels as though the writer didn’t complete the screenplay. The film just ends right in a moment where we’re not expecting it.
La Haine is set in the 1990s and depicts 20 hours in the lives of protagonists Said, Vinz and Hubert, living in ‘les banlieues’ (housing estates) on the outskirts of Paris. It’s a seriously tense film that deals with social exclusion, police brutality, racism and civil unrest. It opens with real footage of the riots that regularly took place between youths and police between 1986 and 1996 (and were continuing during filming). Set to Bob Marley and The Wailers’ resistance themed Burnin’ and Lootin’, it’s a controversial opening sure to inspire and infuriate audiences in equal measure, depending on their point of view. However it has nothing on the closing scene.
Director Mathieu Kassovitz was inspired to write the film when he heard the story of ‘young Zairian, Makome M’Bowole [who] was shot in 1993. He was killed at point blank range while in police custody and handcuffed to a radiator’ (Elstob, 1997) ¹. In La Haine, police brutality is witnessed when two of the protagonists are taken into police custody and tortured. One youth is also hospitalized due to his treatment by the police; and this propels the narrative with one of the protagonists, Vinz, declaring he’ll kill a police officer with a gun he’s found if the youth in hospital dies.
Made for approximately $3 million by first-time filmmaker Kassovitz, La Haine won many awards (including Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival); so devastating was its reception that ‘the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, responded by commissioning a special screening of the film for the cabinet, which ministers were required to attend’ (Johnston, 1995) ². It’s no doubt in no small part due to the shock of the final scene and the open ended nature of the film that politicians were so moved and affected by this piece of cinema. Open endings very often leave us without tidy answers and a sense that the world is just fine. La Haine uses its ending to powerfully suggest that something needs to be done in society.
La Haine emphasizes racial hybridity with the three protagonists being of Arab, Jewish and African descent. The characters all refer to each other with racial banter; in La Haine the three friends refer to each others ethnicities continually. It’s argued that people from ethnic minorities often do this to celebrate their difference from the rest of society and also to give them a sense of belonging with their own sub-culture. It’s not their racial difference that causes conflict between the trio but their attitude to the police and violence that sets Hubert and Vinz on a confrontational course. Vinz wishes to kill a cop for revenge and Hubert tries to get him to see that hate only breeds hate and that violence is not the answer. It’s this fundamental difference of perspectives that gives the final scene its unbearable tension and leaves the audience with a powerful question of what will happen next.
The American ‘hood’ film sub-genre often has a character that is trying to reject a life of crime and escape the trappings of the ‘hood’ in which he lives (see also Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society). Hubert conforms to this archetype and rejects the rioting of the other youths on his estate. He runs a gym that he worked hard to get a grant for and promotes boxing as a sport for young people to get involved in. We first meet Hubert in the ruined gym as the rioters have trashed and burnt it in the previous night’s riots. Hubert ends the film sucked into potentially committing the murder of a police officer (or being murdered himself) as retaliation for the shooting of one of his friends. Characters that try to escape the ghetto life are often stopped from doing so by circumstances out of their control or even by death.
La Haine uses black and white cinematography to enhance a sense of realism by linking it with the real footage from news reports shown in the opening credits. It features steadicam movement with long flowing shots following characters through their environment. Tension is created by using a number of ‘explosive’ cuts at the beginning of the film. The image cuts for example, on Vinz pretending to shoot a gun at his mirror image and hitting a boxing bag. The sound of a gunshot is used on each of these cuts. However the most effective stylistic choice is the use of the ticking clock that regularly appears on screen giving the time. All of these techniques are used to perfection as the film closes.
The final scene begins as the clock ticks over a simple white on black title that tells us it’s now 6am. Vinz, Hubert and Said have been up all night and have returned from their eventful time in Paris. Vinz has leaned some important lessons about his own willingness to use a gun and it seems he’s listened to the wise and more mature Hubert. Vinz gives the gun to Hubert to look after; he’s obviously decided he no longer needs it and Hubert can be trusted to do the right thing with such a dangerous weapon.
As Vinz and Said leave Hubert, a car pulls up and plain clothes police officers jump out and begin to harass them. Hubert notices and the camera tracks him as he walks back towards his friends and the police. The hat he took off to cover the gun drops to the ground as his pace quickens. For the first time in the film we see the clock tick over. 6.00 becomes 6.01 at a pivotal tension building moment. What happens next is absolutely shocking and Hubert’s reaction is completely understandable and possibly predictable. The film ends with a close up on innocent bystander Said as he looks on at a terrible stand-off. The gunshot that closes the film leaves us questioning whose gun went off and what the repercussions will be for all involved.
Hubert’s voiceover states ‘it’s about a society falling. On the way down it keeps telling itself: “So far so good… so far so good… so far so good.” How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.’ Said closes his eyes to what he’s about to see as many close their eyes to the inequality and brutality they see in the world. Hubert is forced to decide how he wants to land. His words could be applied to the film itself. Throughout the fall of the film, we say ‘so far so good’, but it’s not the fall that matters, it all about how it ends.
Peter is a film and media lecturer and currently writing his PhD thesis on found footage horror movies. This means he must endure all sorts of cinema’s worst drivel in the name of academia. If that wasn’t punishing enough, Peter enjoys watching films with brutal violence, depressing themes and a healthy splash of tragedy.
If Peter isn’t watching films, he is writing about them, talking about them or daydreaming about them. He regularly contributes to Media Magazine and a range of film websites. You can find his film blog at www.ilovethatfilm.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @ilovethatfilm.