If, like me, you were a French teenager in the 1990s, you probably have a powerful remembrance of Mathieu Kasovitz’s La Haine (1995), in particular of the tracking shot that starts from the back of DJ Cut Killer mixing Assassin and NTM’s (the historical reference of Parisian hip-hop) “Nique la Police” (Fuck the Police) and Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” (I do not regret anything) and slowly flies over the Cité des Muguets in the suburbs of Paris (see the successive stills assembled below). This film remains a narrative reference to the situation of the Parisian banlieues (suburbs) where the most precarious populations, which include an important part of the North and West African first and second generations of immigration from French former colonies. It is in my plans to expose how technocratic urbanism has lead to the systematic spatial exclusion that we know now in a more detailed manner in the near future (in the meantime, one can read the past articles about “Fortress Paris”); however, for the purposes of this article, I would like to concentrate on La Haine.
The film’s plot is set to happen on the next day of massive demonstrations following the arrest of a young man of the cité — cités refer to this particular urban typology of separated groups of buildings that were thought to be used in a quasi-autarkic way — by the police, which brutalized him to a state of coma. The first minutes of the film (see below) show documentary footage of similar historical protests following Makome M’Bowole’s murder by the police after his arrest in 1993, and Malik Oussekine’s murder by the riot police during a demonstration in 1986. In La Haine, the police is the clear antagonist. This is not always true in the persons of the police officers themselves: persons deal with the power they exercise in various ways (from the comprehensive version to the most violent one); however, the police beyond the persons, that is the institution that the police embodies, is to be understood as part of the systematic exclusion that the banlieues incarnate (hence the film’s soundtrack!).
La Haine‘s tracking shot shows us the cité in its daily dimension and in its contained atmosphere. The world outside of it does not seem accessible and only little activity seems accessible. Earlier in the film, a team of journalists tried to ask questions to the three main characters without getting out of their car, “like in a zoo” as Hubert (one of the three) said. Here again lies the strict and systematic separation between the world and the cité. The wall around the banlieue dramatized in the more recent and popular two films B13 (see past article) is enforced in reality by the void that surrounds the cité. This separating void is both spatial and social as it can be seen in the rest of the film when the three main characters spend some time in the center of Paris. This void is enforced by the police as an institution that historically shifted the main part of its activity from intervention to anticipation and the biased expectations that such change of paradigm implies (see past article about “enveloping locutions“). This has never been more true in the context of banlieues since Nicolas Sarkozy, as secretary of interior affairs, has dissolved the “proximity police” in 2003. Nicolas Sarkozy, who became president of France four years later, is well-known for having systematically antagonizing and marginalizing the young (often Black or Arab) population that live in the cités. Ten years after La Haine was released, massive actions occurred in the banlieues against the status quo. The police suppressed these protests and things are back to ‘normal’ since then. It is difficult not to conclude the same way La Haine does, through this small metaphor:
Heard about the guy who feel of a skyscraper? On his way down, past each floor, he keeps saying to reassure himself: “So far, so good…so far, so good…so far, so good…” But how you fall does not matters, what does is how you land.
Stills from La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995):