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La Haine: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

La haine (Hate) is French actor-director-writer Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film that deals with race, riots, police brutality, and class warfare seen through the eyes of young people in the ghettos of France. Criterion Collection has, at long last, brought this important film to the Blu-ray format. The original DVD was also released by Criterion back in 2006 to coincide with its 10 year anniversary at the time. Now 17 years later (the film was released in 1995 theatrically), high definition enthusiasts can see what all the praise is about on Blu-ray. La haine is fully loaded and looks to nail the viewer right between the eyes. Stay sharp!  

 

Film 

Welcome to our review of Mathieu Kassovitz’ legendary film, La haine. La haine means HATE in English. It’s the story of three friends who live in the projects (also known as banlieue) of France outside of Paris. Way outside. They spend their time getting into fights, dealing drugs, and all sorts of trouble. They’re all French, but are seen as second class citizens due to their ethnic backgrounds. Said ( Said Taghmaoui) is an Arab, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) is Jewish, and Hubert (Hubert Kounde) is African. Yes, they also used their real names in the film. Keeping it real, indeed. 😉

All of this revolves around the beating of one of their friend’s by the police that leaves the housing projects where they live on edge and in ruins. The police have come in and “occupied” the area and in doing so have broken up sections where the youths of the ghetto congregate. The boys are left with nothing to do but wander aimlessly throughout their banlieue in search of meaning. Said is the naive and “innocent” one who has an almost child-like quality to him, but is always getting punked. Vinz is the hot-head who is ready to throw down at a moment’s notice, and Hubert is the smart one who has a mean streak, but also dreams of escaping the trappings of the projects.

La haine takes place within a 24-hour time frame and the lads will get into lots of trouble before the day is over – boy, will it be a long day. We are the fly on the wall and it is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. I’m not even talking about the scenery, because the film was shot in actual housing projects. I’m talking about the level of access afforded to the production. You are with these kids every step of the way and it’s pretty fascinating. I had first discovered La haine 2-3 years ago when I blind-bought the UK import on HD-DVD. I was captivated then and was even more captivated upon the Criterion Blu-ray release. As good as the HD-DVD looked and sounded, there was no comparison to the Criterion version.

Continuing with the film, La haine tackles the marginalization of a certain group of individuals. In this case, it’s three young men from the projects with different ethnic backgrounds. They’re treated with contempt and are seen as second class citizens even though they’re French born. It’s ironic, because that’s actually how it is here in the states, but it gets pushed to the back of the line as most people don’t care and put their apathetic blinders to these issues.

My initial reaction to a film like this would normally be that these punks should get what they deserve, but there are so many factors that have contributed to how they are. No, I won’t use that whole “product of your environment” excuse as a crutch, because it goes much deeper than that. I’m also no social expert, so I’m just speaking freely as someone who somewhat understands the projects, considering I live in them. Hubert, for example, has a wonderful family life, for the most part, but his gym was burned and emptied out. What does that level of bad luck and tragedy do to a person? You gotta get your hustle on somehow.

La haine is a powerhouse of a film that has many social implications, raises questions, has colorful characters, scathing commentary of the law and government, but also tells an entertaining story about living in the ghetto. It really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I hope that you will give La haine a chance now that there’s a beautiful Criterion Collection Blu-ray to get your hands on. If La haine makes think and talk about its contents afterwards then its done its job as a complete social/entertainment package.

Video 

La haine is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised by director Mathieu Kassovitz, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Further color correction was done on a Specter Datacine. Thousands of instance of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and flicker.

We were almost there in terms of having a flawless presentation, but that has nothing to do with the efforts put into the transfer itself, because outside factors figured in. The image is stellar and is the best possible presentation there is outside of the 35mm it was sourced from. What brings it down a smudge is that there were several scenes throughout the film that used archived footage of real events edited into the film to move the story along. These images are anything but stellar. Once we shift back to the real world of La haine, it’s bloody brilliant. Grain levels are incredible as are flesh tones along with contrast levels. La haine is in black and white and the wizards over at Criterion have done a remarkable job in keeping the integrity of the film in check. Black and white features tend to flicker or strobe, but La haine did neither. Flesh tones look detailed as hell without having the actors look like they belong at a wax museum. Edge enhancement was also absent with regard to the main feature, but present in those archived footage segments we talked about earlier. I could honestly just go ahead and give La haine a spiritual 5-star, but gotta keep it real this time out. All things considered, the projects have never looked so good.

Audio 

The 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Okay, so here’s one audio presentation I don’t have to apologize for giving it a perfect score. It’s awesome! Dialogue is crystal clear and comes through the center channel in a dynamic fashion. In fact, the entire 360 sound field is extremely detailed and realistic. There are many scenes that take place in the projects and the city and all of them came through without fail. The LFE just bumps during some of the musical numbers and especially when one of the residents begins to cut it up like a DJ. La haine is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround sound and it floored me with its wall of sound presentation.

Extras 

La haine is on a roll now, and the special features are insanely awesome. We have a very detailed introduction by Jodie Foster, which runs at about 15 minutes, so I’d say it’s more of an interview than an actual introduction. It’s a great interview and she really goes all out in describing her love and admiration for the film and those involved. You may also wonder why out of all people she would be on this disc. I believe she brought the film over to the states back in the mid-90’s through her production company. I’m assuming, though. There’s an 80 minute documentary that chronicles the film in all aspects, which also acts as a 10-year retrospective. From its humble beginnings to its success in France. All the key players are here. Following this there’s a 35 minute segment that shows us the social aspects of the projects and how it plays out in today’s society and how it originated in France and the U.S. This one is my favorite, because it hits close to home. If you know me personally, then you’ll understand. Deleted and extended scenes, trailers, featurettes, making-of segments round out an excellent supplemental package along with an awesome English audio commentary by Mathieu Kassovitz. These are ports from the 2006 Criterion DVD and most of them are presented in HD

  • Audio commentary by Mathieu Kassovitz
  • Introduction by actor Jodie Foster
  • Ten Years of “La haine,” a documentary that brings together cast and crew a decade later after the film’s landmark release
  • Featurette on the film’s banlieue setting
  • Production footage
  • Deleted and extended scenes each with an afterword by Mathieu Kassovitz
  • Gallery of behind-the-scenes photos
  • Trailers
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau and a 2006 appreciation by filmmaker Costa-Gavras

Summary 

La haine is indeed a wake-up call to complacency and normalcy. It’s social commentary of the highest caliber and a pretty grim reminder that this shit happens in real life. The cast and crew of La haine lived and breathed it for quite a while during the making of the film and came out changed human beings. There’s only so much that they could have done with the film, though. They dropped it on France’s head and the country noticed. It’s valid just for that. It’s an almost haunting and prophetic piece of art that 10 years after its theatrical release riots took hold of France. Fast forward it a few more years to the present, has anything really changed? La haine is a timeless and powerful statement on what this marginalized  world is like. There is no sugar coating it for the masses. Here’s hoping that the Blu-ray will wind up in  your player so that you can see what a sincere film about the inner city is really like. Yes, it’s French, but transcends all barriers.

 

 

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

3 Responses to “La Haine: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Solid review for a great film. Nice one Gerard.

  2. Gerard Iribe

    Thanks Aaron. I’ve been hooked on its power for quite a while now. RIP HD-DVD.

  3. Brian White

    Damn! Absolutely solid review, Gerard!