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)—a Jew, an African, and an Arab—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 contemporary French cinema and a gripping reflection of its country’s ongoing identity crisis.
Criterion upgrades their DVD edition of Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine to Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
I’m pretty sure this is the same high-definition transfer that was the basis for the DVD, supervised by Kassovitz. The DVD looked fine and this Blu-ray offers a nice little upgrade over it but I can’t say it’s substantial. The film was originally shot in colour and then processed during development to create the black and white/monochrome finished product, and it’s possible that any limitation the image has is related to this. Generally speaking the transfer is more than pleasing, delivering a fairly if not overly sharp and crisp image. There are moments of softness here and there but I suspect it’s an issue with the source and not necessarily a problem with the digital transfer. Likewise some minor halos, and what appears to be slight edge-enhancement, could also be inherent in the source because of the manipulation, but it can be hard to say for sure.
Past all this the transfer still manages to deliver some strong black levels, and grain is present, though I’ve seen film grain rendered better. I could detect some noise in places but it’s not overly distracting. The source has some minor blemishes but is incredibly clean otherwise.
In all it doesn’t offer a substantial improvement over the DVD since the DVD was already pretty good to begin with, but it does still look very good on the format.
The Blu-ray presents a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track that sounds to have the same mix as the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on the DVD but does actually sound a bit sharper and clearer in its presentation. The film offers a rather surprising and robust experience, making ample use of the surround channels, whether it be the sounds of people in the streets, objects whizzing by, traffic, trains, and many other sound effects, all of which sound to move naturally between the speakers. Dialogue is clear and articulate and sound quality is exceptional with no damage or noise presents. It’s one weakness is that the lower channel isn’t used as effectively as it could have been but otherwise it’s a nice upgrade over the DVD’s audio.
The film’s original 2.0 track, which was included on the DVD, is not found here.
(Also of note is that the film’s subtitles have been corrected for this edition: The DVD changed many names in the film to make it easier for American audiences to better understand the context of a conversation. For example they replaced the name “Asterix” with the name “Snoopy”. The subtitles now refer to “Asterix”.)
It looks as though everything has made it over from Criterion’s impressive 2-disc DVD to this Blu-ray, starting with an audio commentary (in English) by Kassovitz, recorded exclusively for Criterion for that 2007 release. Kassovitz sounds a bit laid back but manages to keep the track engaging as he talks primarily about the production, particularly the origin of it, the casting, the shoot, influences on his style, and the reception of the film. It’s a fine track but ultimately most of this material is covered throughout the rest of the supplements in the set, so whether one wishes to listen to it is completely up to them. But again it’s an engaging enough director track.
Jodie Foster next offers a 15-minute introduction to the film. Foster played a big role in getting Kassovitz’s film released in the U.S. and here she talks about what drew her to his style and this film, and even points out her favourite moments. It’s not the most in-depth interview but it offers a look at the director’s style and his influences (though I guess that aspect should be obvious to most.)
Criterion next includes an 83-minute documentary originally made by Studio Canal entitled Ten Years of “La haine”. Here we get interviews with many of the participants in the production of the film, 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 social conscious film that could also work as an entertainment, similar to the American films he grew up on (his style suggests Spike Lee is a major influence.) From here the documentary gets into details about the financing, the decision to do the film 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, specifically the fact that he didn’t have many options because of how he shot the film. From here it gets into screenings, its premiere and the various awards it won. In all 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 made for the Criterion DVD. Running 34-minutes it features sociologists Sophie Body-Gendrot, William Hornblum, and Jeffrey Fagan, who all talk about the film’s banlieue setting. They go over the history of public housing 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 as well as the political climate that lead to the unrest that was and still is occurring. It’s actually a rather thoughtful inclusion on Criterion’s part, offering some context to the film for those unfamiliar with the film’s 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 or not. 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 possibly be the raw footage around the Eifel Tower sequence. All of this is also 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. These are actually presented in high-definition. We also get two theatrical trailers.
As far as I can see the booklet has the same material that appeared in the DVD’s booklet 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.
And that covers it. It does add some contextual material but it’s mostly about the making of the film. Still, the supplements are all engaging and worth moving one’s way through.
The video upgrade isn’t as substantial as I would have hoped but it’s still a fine looking transfer, and the supplements still hold up rather well. Worthwhile for those that haven’t yet picked up the previous Criterion DVD or any other edition of the film.