Two Frenchmen, Mathieu Kassovitz and Nicolas Sarkozy, both sons to Hungarian immigrant fathers, recently reached milestones. Kassovitz' masterpiece 'La Haine' was re-released as part of The Criterion Collection, one of the highest ‘honors’ a re-released film can get. And it is one of the best ‘hip-hop’ movies ever made.
Kassovitz brilliantly reworks Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ character-name-cards to present hip-hop’s essential flair with ‘the name’ (the jump cut to Said’s police-vehicle tag and the track into Vinz’ two finger ring…). Kassovitz channeled Spke Lee’s romantic vision of ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ into his feature debut ‘Café Au Lait / Metisse’ but ‘La Haine’ taps into the leisurely pace and brewing violence fueled by lingering injustice portrayed in ‘Do The Right Thing.’ The beautiful DJ and b-boy sequences of ‘La Haine’ provide the characters and audience moments to relax between tense encounters. The ethnic mix of the protagonist-trio is a matter-of-fact idealized, and specifically French, image of the hip-hop generation looking beyond the typical social divisions (Black Christian, White Jew, North-African Muslim) to unite in their own world (the Chanteloup banlieues / projects) and then brush up against the outside world (police, skinheads, gallery patrons!!!). [The use of a short camera lens and mono-sound recording in Paris contrasts to the long lens, stereo-sound, dollied, tracked and ‘helicoptered’ shots used in the banlieues.] [Kassovitz is particularly proud that Vinz was listed by The Source as one of the Top Ten “Goons” (his word) of all time.] Throughout the DVD extras, we learn about the class, racial and xenophobic tensions existing in France that ‘La Haine’ brought to light. Like Los Angeles in ‘Boyz N The Hood,’ this is a France that had not been seen in cinema before.
Kassovitz describes Nicolas Sarkozy's actions in 2005 (as the Minister Of the Interior) and how they related to the rioting of that year. Similar riots, that were a reaction to police brutality in 1993, are used as a prelude to the plot of 'La Haine.'
Kassovitz also mentions Sarkozy's desire to become the next president of France and, at the time of the DVD release a few weeks ago, the election had yet to take place. Kassovitz speaks to the viewer on the commentary track:
"You probably know if (Sarkozy) is the next president..."
Sarkozy’s main opponent Segolene Royal, in a moment of easy drama and probable desperation, accurately predicted results of a Sarkozy election:
"My responsibility today is to launch an alert about the risks of this candidacy and the violence and brutalities that will start in the country… everyone knows it but nobody says anything…''
Indeed, this past weekend, Sarkozy became the president of France… and, although he was favored to win, the protests have raged since election night. During these protests, Sarkozy has been celebrating his victory on a billionaire’s luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. There is nothing inherently wrong with his form of celebration but the contrast of images is telling.
The Criterion website describes an on-line exchange that Kassovitz and Sarkozy had on Kassovitz' blog
"He used his first post to take right-wing minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy to task, specifically for his remark that the rioters were “scum” and that they should be blasted out of the banlieues “with a fire hose.”
The day after Sarkozy was elected Paris police used water cannon on protesters (mostly made up of ‘far-left activists’ and, it should be noted, not inhabitants of the banlieues).
The entire exchange can be read here
but the following excerpt of Kasovitz’ post captures some of the anger that Sarkozy has contributed to.
"By acting like a warmonger, he has opened a breach that I hope will engulf him. Hate has kindled hate for centuries and yet Sarkozy still thinks that repression is the only way to prevent rebellion. History has proved to us that a lack of openness and philosophy between different communities engenders hate and confrontation. Sound and fury are the only means for many communities to make themselves heard. Sarkozy wants to become the president of our republic and nobody will get in his way, as he dramatically puts it. If this man does not fail at least once in his initiatives to win the presidency of this country, nothing indeed will get in his way, and his desire for absolute power will finally be fulfilled.
Does history repeat itself? Yes. It always has done. A desire for power and the egocentricity of those who think they hold the truth has always created dictators. Sarkozy is certainly a little Napoleon…”
To be fair, only a small portion of the 10,000 protesters committed destructive acts and that even in the banlieues there was immigrant support for Sarkozy, particularly relating to his support for affirmative action and his vision for a new French ‘work ethic.’
On the DVD commentary track Kassovitz says that some of the police he has spoken to, in the decade since the film was released, were actually inspired to become cops after seeing La Haine. He says they wanted to become GOOD COPS after seeing a film maligned as ‘anti-police.’
His reply to Sarkozy clarifies his view of law enforcement.
"I am not opposed to the police; on the contrary, I am in favor of a better-respected, better-educated, and more human police… A kind of police I can trust over my personal and my children’s security, regardless of social condition, skin color, age, or belief… When you mention a return to the Republican values, don’t forget that you have to command respect before you can expect it in return. Since the police has lost the respect it should command, then once again you should ask yourself what the real problems are. You claim to be turned towards the future, yet your methods are repressive and obsolete.”
Although ‘La Haine’ uses a found gun as an extraordinary catalyst for the ‘plot,’ Kassovitz explains that guns are, in general, unavailable to the frustrated youth of France. American youth, in similar situations, have demonstrated that guns provide an accessible direction for misguided frustrations.
Kassovitz notes that the French riots of 2005 occurred with no deaths.