La haine

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Synopsis

Mathieu Kassovitz took the film world by storm with La haine, a gritty, unsettling, and visually explosive look at the racial and cultural volatility in modern-day France, specifically the low-income banlieue districts on Paris’s outskirts. Aimlessly passing their days in the concrete environs of their dead-end suburbia, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé), and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui)—Jewish, African, and Arab, respectively—give human faces to France’s immigrant populations, their bristling resentment at their marginalization slowly simmering until it reaches a climactic boiling point. A work of tough beauty, La haine is a landmark of 1990s French cinema and a gripping reflection of its country’s ongoing identity crisis.

Picture 9/10

Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine receives a 4K UHD upgrade from The Criterion Collection. The film is presented in Dolby Vision with a 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a triple-layer disc. The presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration performed by StudioCanal, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. Additionally, a standard dual-layer Blu-ray has been included, featuring the release's supplements and a 1080p film presentation. It's important to note that the Blu-ray disc replicates Criterion’s 2012 Blu-ray edition and uses an older restoration.

After a couple of so-so presentations on DVD and Blu-ray, this new version delivers a substantial upgrade. It provides the expected enhancements with improved detail and cleaner encoding, but what impressed me the most were the improvements in the broader contrast and grayscale, afforded by the wider dynamic range. Whereas both the Blu-ray and DVD presented limited shadows and blown-out, flat skies, the 4K presentation delivers distinct gray levels in the latter and clearer depth and detail in those shadows. This all leads to a more photographic look, enhancing the viewing experience significantly.

The improved encode also leads to cleaner grain, and I didn’t detect any distracting artifacts while watching. I was also pleased to see that the highlights looked quite clean. The restoration has been thorough, cleaning up print damage and leaving next to nothing behind, although the previous presentations were perfectly fine in this area as well. Altogether, it’s an exceptional-looking presentation.

Audio 8/10

Criterion includes both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround soundtracks on the 4K disc but only the 5.1 on the standard Blu-ray. Surprisingly, the Blu-ray drops the 2.0 soundtrack despite its inclusion on the DVD. For this review, I listened to the 5.1 soundtrack.

Comparing the 4K and Blu-ray soundtracks, I noticed a slightly sharper quality with a broader range between the lows and highs. The louder moments throughout the film appeared to be more pronounced on the 4K version. However, I must admit that someone more adept at comparing audio may have a more nuanced perspective.

Regardless, the sound mix is still very effective, immersing the viewer in the environment by placing them right in the middle of the action, with street life and music swirling around. Dialogue remains clear and sharp, with no distortion or damage present. Once again, Criterion delivers an excellent audio experience.

(As with the Blu-ray edition, Criterion uses the “corrected” subtitles; the DVD incorrectly translated one character’s nickname to “Snoopy” when it should have been “Asterix.” “Asterix” is correctly used here.)

Extras 7/10

Since the included Blu-ray replicates the 2012 release, all supplements have been ported over, starting with an English-language audio commentary by Kassovitz, recorded exclusively for Criterion for that 2007 release (found on both the 4K disc and Blu-ray). Kassovitz sounds a bit laid back but manages to keep the track engaging as he talks about the production, particularly the origin of it, the casting, the shoot, influences on his style, and the reception of the film. It’s an OK track, but ultimately, most of this material is covered throughout the rest of the supplements in the release, so whether one wishes to listen to it is entirely up to them. But again, it’s an engaging enough director track.

Jodie Foster's 15-minute introduction to the film is also still here. Foster played a significant role in getting the film released in the U.S.; she talks about what drew her to his style and this film and even points out her favorite moments. It’s not the most in-depth interview but looks at the director’s style and influences.

Criterion next includes an 83-minute retrospective documentary by StudioCanal entitled Ten Years of “La haine”. Here, we get interviews with many of the participants in the film's production, including, but not limited to, Kassovitz and actors Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, and Saïd Taghmaoui. The documentary begins by looking at the death of a young Zairian man, who was killed by police during an interrogation. From here, Kassovitz decided to make a socially conscious film that could also work as entertainment, similar to the American films he grew up on (Spike Lee was obviously an influence). The documentary then gets into details about the financing, the decision to do the movie in black and white—though through an unorthodox process—moving in with the locals to gain their trust, and how some of the more complex shots in the film were done, including a helicopter sequence. Kassovitz talks about the difficulties in editing, the biggest of which is that he didn’t have many options because of how he shot the film. Finally, it gets into screenings, its premiere, and the various awards it has won. It’s a pretty standard making-of documentary, never offering anything all that surprising, but it’s still an engaging and entertaining piece.

Social Dynamite is an exclusive piece created initially for the Criterion DVD. Running 34 minutes, it features sociologists Sophie Body-Gendrot, William Hornblum, and Jeffrey Fagan discussing the film’s banlieue setting. They go over the history of public housing in France, comparing it to similar projects in the States and the sociological effect it can have on those born and raised there. It also touches on the economic issues that arose throughout the years and the political climate that led to the unrest that was and still is occurring. It’s a thoughtful inclusion on Criterion’s part, offering context to the film for those unfamiliar with its location and the political and sociological climate.

Preparing for the Shoot is a 6-minute video journal covering the cast and crew’s stay in the public housing area where they filmed, followed by another 6-minute featurette entitled The Making of a Scene. In the latter piece, we see behind-the-scenes footage around the scene where Cassel’s character fantasizes about shooting an officer and also get an extended interview with Kassovitz about the film’s themes of hatred on both sides.

Criterion next includes a collection of Deleted and Extended Scenes. We first get two deleted scenes, running under 2 minutes total, one involving what I think is an alternate scene to the police confrontation on the roof and the other involving Cassel’s character trying to figure out if a homeless man is dead. The two extended scenes, running about 5 minutes, present a slightly longer sequence involving a conversation between Hubert and Vincent and then what appears to be the raw footage around the Eifel Tower sequence. This is accompanied by an “afterword” featuring Kassovitz talking about the sequences and why they didn’t make it as is into the film, even sharing an anecdote or two.

The disc then closes with a small photo gallery featuring about 14 photos with title cards. We also get two theatrical trailers.

Though it's now a fold-out, the insert looks to replicate the DVD and Blu-ray booklets, starting with a decent essay on the film by Ginette Vincendeau, followed by a short note by Costa-Gavras on the film’s sociological aspects.

Sadly, nothing new is added here. Though Criterion throws some context around the film's subject matter, the supplements focus more on the film's production. More insights into how the film has held up almost 30 years later feels warranted.

Closing

I really wish Criterion would revisit their supplements when upgrading some of their titles to 4K UHD. Still, at least the new presentation delivers a significant improvement over Criterion's previous Blu-ray edition.

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Directed by: Mathieu Kassovitz
Year: 1995
Time: 97 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 381
Licensor: Le Pacte
Release Date: April 02 2024
MSRP: $49.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50/UHD-66
1.85:1 ratio
French 2.0 DTS-HD MA Surround
French 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: HDR10Dolby Vision
 
 Audio commentary by Mathieu Kassovitz   Introduction by actor Jodie Foster   Ten Years of “La haine,” a documentary featuring cast and crew members   Featurette on the film’s banlieue setting   Production footage   Deleted and extended scenes, with an afterword by Mathieu Kassovitz   Behind-the-scenes photos   Trailers   An essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau and a 2006 appreciation by filmmaker Costa-Gavras