We’re halfway through the Decades Blogathon, hosted by myself and the peerless Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Tom and I are running different entries each day; and this one comes from Marta over at Ramblings of a Cinephile. If you haven’t checked out Marta’s site yet – why not?! – you’ll find it filled with her thoughts on oldies, new releases, home viewing and more besides.
Mathieu Kassovitz gives us an insight into roughly 20 hours of the lives of Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Kounde), three young friends from one of the banlieues (housing projects) in the suburbs around Paris, chronicling the aftermath of a riot.
The viewer witnesses the struggles and alienation of these twenty-somethings living in an impoverished, multi-ethnic environment that seems a world apart from the magical and romantic image of Paris. This contrast is highlighted even more by the stark black and white photography and the expert use of framing and editing.
The three men have a quite different reaction to the event that led to the riot: the brutal beating of one of their friends by a policeman while in custody.
Vinz, unemployed from a Jewish family, is full of rage against all the police and the establishment. Being impulsive with a need to prove himself, he’s ready for retaliation (he mimics the “Are you talking to me?” scene from Taxi Driver while alone in the bathroom).
Hubert, a Afro-French boxer and pot dealer, is more thoughtful and wiser in the ways of the world; he can see that hatred will only breed hatred and dreams to leave all this behind but, sadly, knows that there’s no escape. Said, who is an Arab Maghrebi and unemployed, inhabits a middle ground approach between those of his friends. He sees the injustice and the rampant racism but he wants to avoid troubles and just live quietly.
Following their journey while they wander around the projects or in Paris proper, the viewer is taken on a roller coaster of hectic chases, fights, weird and dangerous encounters and idle conversations. The guys will disagree (mostly Hubert and Vinz), reconcile and always have each other’s backs. Their friendship seems to be the only solace in such a grim life that almost makes you believe that they are going to be alright… so far so good, until it’s not.
After 20 years the story and themes of this film are still very actual; I might venture to say that things are slightly worse nowadays, making its tale of crude brutality and hopelessness even more poignant.
The three leads deliver brilliant performances, giving the audience flawed but sympathetic characters to root for and to follow in their grey world. Kassovitz’s directing and writing skills are impressive and were, well deservedly, recognised in 1995 since he was awarded a Cesar for Best Film and Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
At the time this film was compared to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Kassovitz noted with irony: “I don’t know if it’s really important, or intelligent even, when people say to me I’m a white Spike Lee, because they said to Spike Lee, you’re a black Woody Allen.” Gut-wrenching – 9/10