These are my notes for my first practice oral exam where I analysed the first 6.5 minutes of the french film ‘La Haine’:
So today I’ll be analysing the first 6 ½ minutes of the 1995 film ‘La Haine’.
I’d like to start with the first few lines of the film, a voiceover, spoken by one of the main characters Hubert which roughly translates from French to:
“Have you heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far – so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!”
I think these lines are very powerful and start the movie off perfectly – immediately linking to the deeper meaning of the movie, which I’ll discuss later on. Hubert’s quote, along with the animation along side it gets the audience thinking – as well as setting the scene for themes such as the breakdown of society and violence- explored all the way throughout ‘La Haine’.
This is part of the reason I’ve chosen to analyse these first few scenes – I believe the impression that the audience initially establish towards the film – and characters – it shapes the way they interpret the film throughout.
The Director – Mathieu Kassovitz – uses dozens of film techniques within these minutes – infact the entire film is littered with hidden meaning expressed through camera angles, his choice of music and tonnes of discrete phrases and symbols shown on screen. – but he does all this to insure – right from the start – that he’s conveying everything that ‘La Haine’ was set out to convey to french audiences at the time.
→ Mathieu Kassovitz, being a very skilled director and actor had a very clear intent for his movie ‘La Haine’ – he knew the effect it would have on people in France (and worldwide) – so he cleverly harnessed the power that he had to influence people.
→ La Haine being very politically relevant, representing something that had never been showcased before – The banlieues in France – which meant unemployment, social exclusion, racial conflict, urban decadence, criminality and all the violence that came as a result – a very different picture than the average, paris orientated, cinema that had been shown before this sociohistorical period.
→ Kassovitz believed French society was falling as well as Western society and perhaps even the entire world. He often spoke of ‘The hate’ (Which is what la haine translates to) and how it lead to the 1993 shooting of sixteen-years-old Makomé Bowley in police custody. The entire film was Inspired by the police brutality towards the boy – Kassovitz wrote the script with a focus on the clash between the French police force and the youth of the banlieue.
→ Although generally La Haine’s effect has been positive – bringing attention to many issues France was facing at the time – there has been some controversy as to how Kassovitz portrayed the police in France – so much so that at an award ceremony for La Haine the police guards turned their backs to Kassovitz in protest.
→ This iss partly due to the effort and emotion that’s been put into this film – which Is apparent through every single scene and the care that’s clearly gone into each shot.
This scene that I’ve chosen almost directly links to the final scene in ‘La Haine’
Making it clear the whole movie was a metaphor about how society is falling and the way it falls is irrelevant and completely out of anyone’s hands.
→ This is shown through the repetition of the phrase “How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.” – which is an exact copy of what’s said in the final scene – the movie comes to a close almost exactly the same way it begins – It zooms onto Said’s face – he shuts his eyes and there is a gun shot. The exact reversal of this scene.
Shot by shot analysis
→ In the beginning of my chosen scene the three actors are introduced as ‘Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde and Saïd Taghmaoui’( Tag mowee)
- What I love about La Haine is the fact they all have their real first names – this immediately makes their story seem incredibly realistic – which allows the audience to relate to them very quickly
- Using these names simply makes La Haine much_more_personal – almost as though it’s a documentary – treating each and every one of them like real people – not just characters – they’re simply recounting a terrible story they’ve all been through.
- This technique is similar to one in Sergio Leone’s movie the good, the bad and the ugly – where the protagonists are also introduced at the beginning of the film – having the same effect.
→ After the introduction of Vinz, Hubert and Said – appears a sentence on screen – translating from French to ‘This film is dedicated to friends and family who died while it was in the making.’ This again backs up the theme of realism in La Haine.
Even though the story may not be entirely true – the violence and story behind it is very real and this line shows that.
This is significant as there are many emotions the audience explore throughout La Haine, the fact these may be based on true events is very hard hitting especially at the end of the film when the audience would have been very familiar with the horror of police brutality.
→ the film then cuts to a Molotov cocktail being thrown towards a satellite image of earth – which I believe represents the falling_society – referred to later on in the film.
→ This, followed by the footage of real riots in France begins the movie perfectly, introducing a sense of realism that’s maintained throughout La Haine … nd
- It also Immediately draws the audience’s attention – France at this time would’ve been very familiar with the footage, maybe having even seen it before on the news
- And it simply sets the scene, introducing the characters , setting of the movie and just the general issues that are discussed throughout it
- It’s also very eye-catching and in many ways –entertaining, which makes the movie appear immediately interesting.
- The footage is also really hard hitting when showing the violence reciprocated against the looters – which highlights one of the main issues in La Haine –police violence
→ Throughout the riot footage Bob Marley’s song Burnin’ and lootin’ plays – bringing attention to the mix of cultures in the movie,
- Bob Marley himself from Jamaica – obvious through his skin colour, accent and style of music – makes the song very relevant to the footage shown – as riots have also been an issue for their government.
- the song is about riots and the ghetto areas in Jamaica – much like Les banlieues in France where this is set, so the song fits well with the footage of riots and the general theme of rebellion.
- However despite the sombre lyrics and deeper meaning behind the song it’s surprisingly chilled out, much like other Bob Marley songs about much more innocent topics – therefore the general feeling of the scenes aren’t made too disturbing as it would have otherwise been
→ The director has also cleverly linked the lyrics of the song with scenes from the riots . For example ‘Uniforms of brutality’ (a lyric from the song) is clearly referring to a police officer, which is then shown as this line is sung.
→ The next scene is very unique in the way it’s edited. The film starts with a news report about the riots as well as their friend Abdel Ichaha’s beating in police custody, this is then cut off abruptly by a cut that very much resembles how you would switch off a tv. Opening the question as to whether this is a real news report – similar to the riot footage.
The actual news report itself also sounding (i believe) purposely biased.
Phrases such as “mob of youths”, “left 14 officers injured”, using the word “attacked” it’s all very anti rioters. However the effect of using a biased piece like this is the opposite to its intention, and Kassovitz knew this – and used it to create sympathy i think towards the rioters.
After the TV is switched off The Time code is introduced, along with a ticking that resembles the sound of a ticking bomb – this keeps the generally safe scene tense – This scene is simply a young man standing in front of other men in police uniforms – there is no immediate danger the audience can see. However the ticking of the time code along with the loud, unexpected gunshot creates a tense atmosphere. The audience are immediately hooked on the scene. It otherwise having been a very innocent shot – but cleverly made more exciting with all these effects- which is done consistently throughout ‘La Haine’ which is again what i believe makes this film so special.
→ So, the very loud gunshot at the beginning, whose source is unknown until it’s figured out in the final scene of the film, immediately draws the audience’s attention to Said – the scene is now silent – The initial shot not following the rule of thirds – it’s being taken from directly in front of him, creating a feeling of discomfort.
The shot continues to zoom in on Said, whose eyes remain closed, making the feeling of discomfort even more prominent – The camera, now in an extreme close-up then continues to show over the shoulder, center shots of Said from the back – as the scene in front of him is slowly displayed – initially blurred, there is a pull focus to a large group of policemen. The effect of this is building suspense and making the scene interesting to the watcher. It’s tense when his eyes are closed and even more so when we see the police in front of him.
The shot then pans along the stern faces of the policemen – from an acting perspective it was vital to maintain composure as well as a straight face – the song burnin and lootin can be heard – however it’s now diegetic – but it relates this scene to the footage before. And linking to the idea of the area having been vandalised by looters. In the same shot the camera pans round a wall to Said graffiting the back of a police van with a derogatory phrase against the police.
Said is standing in front of the writing at first – creating anticipation for the watcher – it is slowly revealed as Said is seen through the reflection off the van running away. The shot lingers on the phrase – allowing it to really sink in for the audience. And with a mostly french speaking audience a phrase like this would not be one to miss.
The mise en scene for this scene would’ve been very significant for creating meaning- introducing the setting as well as Said – his lax clothing choice says a lot about him. He doesn’t appear unclean and is an immediately likable character simply by the fact he’s not in police uniform like the rest of them.
This scene as a whole is actually quite odd – unlike normal film sequences – so much so that it raises the question – real or false?
It’s very dream- like – especially being in black and white which wouldn’t of been typical at the time – mostly everything being in colour in the 1990s.
The setting is strangely natural, it looks like a very typical suburb. – However the scene behind Said is abandoned and quite clearly damaged by (what we assume was) the riots. There’s a burnt out bin to the right of said
and broken windows – various bits of graffiti
Like i said before there’s lots of symbols and hidden meanings scattered throughout the movie representing very prominent political messages – it brings attention to things the french have been trying to ignore for years. – And being in the background may symbolise how even now the audience aren’t paying attention to it.
In the scene the black and white effect conceals any sort of sun that may have been lighting the scene – making the whole shot generally quite bright – with everything visible. Initially the shot doesn’t portray a particularly desirable place to live – emphasised by the large group of policemen in the area too.
On the whole – the editing and cinematography used set the scene very well – conveying a lot about the area and people involved. It’s very different to other french films – showing very separate areas to the ‘France’ audiences are used to seeing movies about.
There are many techniques which make La Haine seem much more realistic than it perhaps is, the use of their real names along with genuine footage from riots at the beginning being very effective.
I personally believe overall the movie’s context is the most significant aspect to it’s understanding and how it’s perceived
– as the whole reason Kassovitz wrote and produced La Haine was – to spread this political message and almost cry for help – bringing attention to something that’s been so easily dismissed by the world’s cinema for years. Finally portraying Les Banlieues as they really are.