Here’s an analysis I did for class on how space is illustrated and how the characters are marginalised by the portrayal of power (authority) throughout:
La Haine’s illustrative force is represented by the way director Mathieu Kassovitz structures his film as a study of the shambles of society, utilising his characters as figures of free speech and independence only allows him to drive home his intention even further. Kassovitz brings with his film a shuddering nervousness, constantly alluding to images of a greater future without all the torment of riots and public perceptions of figures unaccustomed to it. Intertitles are consistently utilised throughout to startle the viewer and give the film a deft and realistic tone, its primary purpose is to give the viewer a state of engulfment within the atrocities of the riots and to feel as if every second counts. The ticking sound heard behind the dark texted screen is unavoidable. Here at ’12:43’, such an early moment in time before everything comes crashing down, the force of it still feels irrepressible and its use is as essential as the spacious isolation of the figures La Haine focuses on.
The opening shot of the sequence is perhaps the film’s most precise use of space as we are shown Vinz, Hubert and Said situated in what appears to be a children’s play park just outside a block of flats in the rundown suburbs of Paris. It provides a heavy dose of the isolation of these characters; they are threatened and clouded out of society, deemed to be lesser, negative representations of the country’s troubles. Shown here they display little hope of positivity, perhaps condemned to the position of disappointment. Vinz, if you look hard enough, appears to be praying (his lips move ever so suddenly, he doesn’t shift) or contemplating something. His mind is as frequented by the illusions of power as the others, but his body language displays something outside of Hubert and Said’s own feelings.
Even if you ignore the connotations of the shot providing suggestions on the topic of isolation there is plenty to be analysed and interpreted by way of the margins of power and how they are adhered by the actions of Vinz and his two friends. As I suggested earlier they feel engulfed by the social traumas raised from the riots and thus feel powerless to break free of the stereotypical presumptions others will have of them. They will be immortalised as thugs and part of the problem, people classifying them as this because of the raw, essentially tasteless slant news coverage will have over them and others in similar circumstances. This is of course noticeable by the unnecessary actions of the television camera crew who arrive, presume the boy’s involvement and subsequently use footage of Vinz’ annoyance with them as part of a negative news report, which is made plainly obvious by the use of the recording shown to the viewer on screen.
Vinz and his friends’ disturbance with the labelling is an objective instrument to the way La Haine analyses the irrational attitudes of others and the constant surveillance over them. Hubert, one of the two friends, makes a noteworthy statement when he addresses the reporter with “This isn’t Thoiry” in reference to “a drive-in safari park”. Hubert considers the surveillance as more than observation, he considers the suspicions to be a part of the unjust conclusions others will come to. It’s a simplistic technique utilised by Kassovitz, but it reinforces the boys’ frustration with identity and the power weighing against them to do anything about it.
Compounded by the powerlessness of how they are manifested by others it’s pivotal to acknowledge the different ethnicities of the three – Vinz is Jewish; Hubert is African-French; and Said presumably originates from Algeria or Morocco – and how they are subjected to scrutiny and negativity throughout, the aforementioned encounter with the news team the principal example.
What we see of their attitudes and the perceptions from others is an essential element of the film, but it’s important to notice the differences in their behaviour when they are isolated in the ravaged suburbs and their philosophy in the (apparently) more civilised surroundings of inner Paris. They feel threatened in the suburbs, but their frustrations remain elevated as they change location. We witness Vinz’ ambitions of destruction after the savageness of the riots has gotten to him as he is seen imagining shooting a police officer in explosive style and we observe a more physical interrogation of the boys in the latter sequence of the film, both of which truly bring home the film’s substantial focus on themes regarding the weight of power and the capability for Vinz and his friends to control it.
Their existence is monitored and degraded throughout La Haine, but the marginalization displayed in this particular sequence is essential to understanding the authority held over them. We witness them minding their own business and keeping to themselves before they feel intimidated by the television crew. This forces them to act out of character and rupture their public appearance, enabling all the stereotypical views to appear true to see for all those around. It’s essential to the film’s impressionistic approach of handling the themes of identity and overbearing power, relating to the fact they are vulnerable and powerless to change their image on the news even despite their motivation to avoid and break away from it.
Even outside of this sequence the intimidating presence and lack of power is displayed by another friend of the boys. They enter his cluttered apartment which is surrounded by the mise-en-scene of boxes and frantic, unorganised mess. They discover him distressed and frustrated by the riots. He is fatigued and can’t get to work as his car has been set on fire and destroyed – this is shown by a shot we see of the characters looking out of the window at the charcoaled vehicle with youths continuously kicking it – and through his emotions he realises he’s powerless to do anything about it. The relatively lazy approach by the police is to border the proximity surrounding it, but the lack of tape and the easiness at which several youths manage to break through and destroy the vehicle even further only solidifies the powerless positions of Vinz and his friends even further and their inability to break away from the tragedies of the riots and the subsequent breakdown of control in the underprivileged suburbs of Paris.
However, there are other elements to be noted in the apartment such as the placement of the Bob Marley poster which displays a connotation reflecting the man’s hope for freedom and individual control over power – something which Marley became iconic for in his 70’s heyday – but most prominent in the sequence is the t-shirt he is wearing with the provocative words “Elvis Shot JFK”. Both of these examples, if anything, are proof of the film’s prevalent message regarding the control of power and how it is represented in the declining suburbs of Vinz’ Paris.
As the film progresses and we see their dissatisfaction with the aforementioned treatment from authoritative figures grow the breakdown of the characters becomes more evident. They are finished with the disrespect and persecution – both physically and verbally – pointed their way, which leads to the film’s inevitable conclusion and their expected fall under the ruling of the controlled Paris they live in. Ultimately La Haine’s depiction of power and control is sophistically orchestrated, leading its focal characters into an underworld of society’s own doing. The power has a firm grasp on them and they cannot escape, they are vulnerable and susceptible to the jurisdiction reigning over Paris.