La Haine: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: For Everyone?

The tricolour motto states an ideal that everyone should experience three things: Equality, fraternity and Liberty and these themes can be seen throughout Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film La Haine. The symbolism of the stolen police pistol in the scene in which the group encounter the skinheads (https://youtu.be/ABNs5ck5nB8?t=58) shows how the themes of the tricolour are demonstrated in Kassovitz’s “presentation of radicalised youth” (Sharma and Sharma, 2000) in La Haine.

If we focus on the symbolic nature of the police pistol in this scene, we can see that immigrants and those who live in cites and banlieues are forced into breaking the law to be able to experience the ideals of the tricolour motto. When Vinz holds the pistol to the skinhead’s head he puts himself on the same level as the police officers who discriminate on the ‘beurs’ by using the weapon that is used against them to gain power in this situation, and for a fleeting moment there almost a sense that he is equal to the police because he has taken justice into his own hands. This allows the audience to get the impression that in banlieues and amongst immigrants there is no equality and that they are separated and segregated from society because to feel equal they have to break the law and commit criminal acts of delinquency to gain any sense of liberty.

This idea is supported by Paris & Ault (2004) who stated “Youth engaged in behaviours that remove themselves temporarily from the dominant culture but at the same time acts as agents of change”. This idea is extremely prevalent in this scene as the three boys from the banlieue have almost broken the cycle of discrimination by using the pistol to elevate their position of power and give themselves a brief moment of liberty; with this weapon they are in control. When they first corner the skinhead in the back alley Vinz shows obvious excitement and it is clear to see he feels empowered by the pistol. The framing of the shot also supports this because we see the three boys stood over the skinhead showing that they are for once the ones who are superior. It is very important to note that Kassovitz cast himself as the skinhead in this scene. Because Kassovitz is a member of the Parisian bourgeoise (Siciliano, 2007) it shows that by harnessing the pistol and breaking the law, Vinz has temporarily given himself a moment of liberty and power over those higher up than him.

However, even though the pistol creates moments where the youths from the banlieue feel equal or liberated it is extremely important to recognise that these moments are only temporary and when they are over all the boys are left with is the feeling of fraternity for one and other because that’s all they really have, they rely on each other for support and even though throughout the film they have their differences and disagreements they always end up looking out for eachother until the very end. This shows the audience that not all three tricolour ideals consistently apply to those of a lower class living in cités in a post World War 2 France.

Bibliography:

Sharma, S., & Sharma, A. (2000). `So Far So Good…’: La Haine and the Poetics of the Everyday. Theory, Culture & Society, 17(3), 103–116.

Siciliano, A. (2007) La Haine: Framing the ‘Urban Outcasts’. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies6(2), 211-230

Paris, J., & Ault, M. (2004). Subcultures and political resistances. Peace Review, 16(4), 403-407

Kassovitz, M. (Director). (1995). La Haine [Motion Picture]. France: Canal+

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