Compare and contrast Mathieu Kassowitz''s ''La Haine'' with Agnes Varda''s ''Sans toit ni loi'' to assess what they have in common and what distinguishes them in relation to the themes of difference and exclusion but also in relation to genre, production, character treatment and film techniques. Justify your answer, where relevant, with short, precise examples from the films.

The two French films to be reviewed in this analysis deal with the similar themes of difference and exclusion, and the ways in which these themes impact the lives of each of the characters. Their behaviour collides with that of the world around them and sends ripples through the society they rebel against. This analysis will explore the use of production and camera techniques in establishing mood and perspective, and it will discuss the possible various genres of the films and the development of the characters. The films were made around the same time and exhibit a feeling of uncertainty and drift in society. As a result a new genre has had to be created, in keeping with this new post-modernist art form, and which has been given the term ‘cinema de banlieu’ (Konstantarakos, 1999).  
In Matthieu Kassovitz’z La Haine, three young men from very different ethnic backgrounds traipse around the around the poorer districts of Paris. Their ethnic difference bears nothing to their difference from the affluent and privileged society that holds sway in the city, something that is illustrated so effectively by Kassovitz that ‘government ministers watched (sic) it so as to understand what might be ailing the disaffected youth’ (Powrie, 1999, 16). The incompatibility between the banlieus and the inner city is illustrated early on in the film with coverage of rioting in the streets that does for Abdel Ichaha – a friend of the three main characters. The first scene opens on a French boy of Moroccan descent. His expression is one of concern, and as the camera pans out it is apparent that he is standing alone while a line of policeman languor, like a pack of dogs, against their riot vans, resting but alert. The camera pans along until it changes angle and comes around the back of Said, who, in the space of a few seconds, has artfully moved behind enemy lines.  It is in this opening scene that the aggression felt by Said and his friends is indirectly demonstrated, as he graffitis insults on the back of a police van.  The strength of this collective feeling is well established by inclusion in the film of genuine footage of street riots between the inhabitants of the banlieus and the police.
Similarly, the black and white cinematography of La Haine makes viewing the film feel as though it is a news report or a documentary. Its lack of colour seems to reflect the general lack in the lives of Said, Hubert and Vinz, and the starkness of this reality. It is useful to take note of the light found within Paris central. In places like the drug dealers apartment, the train station and the art gallery the light acts as a kind of metaphor for disinfectant. In two of these places the three boys are in fact kicked out – not welcome in the expensive rooms they find themselves in, and in the train station the clinical silence of the platforms and waiting areas shouts loudly that this is a place for passing through, not lingering. The three friends, of course, do the latter. The gallery scene is particularly useful in observing the divide between the Parisian upper class, which enjoys a cultured and comfortable lifestyle, and the poorer subsocieties whose members hang out in playgrounds, warehouses and estate rooftops. The normally placid Hubert acts out here and in doing so he simultaneously loses some of the admiration instilled in the viewer thanks to his previous actions and gains a new credibility as the viewer reconsiders the equality of society where the rich receive all the opportunities and the poor have only each other to do battle with. As all three boys are made to depart the gallery they cause as much destruction as they can, and the divisions between the two groups is driven further as a result.
Through the relationship of these three characters it is obvious that they have a lot to give, but nowhere to apply themselves. Nowhere is this more obviously apparent than in the character of Hubert, who we are first introduced to in his burnt out gym in the aftermath of the riots, where he is boxing intently with no acknowledgement of the mess around him. His friends express the dismay on their faces as they enter and walk through the charred warehouse in disbelief. It is at this point that the film becomes imbued with a level of suspense. The lack of concern Hubert shows for his gym seems too incredible and the anger Vinz later comes to display all suggests the metaphysical presence of a ticking time bomb. The fact that the sequence of events is interspersed with the four digits of the 24-hour clock attests to this, counting down, or maybe towards something. In this way it allows for the film to be perceived as part of the crime genre; this close attention to the time of each event gives the plot suspense, as though the meandering of the three friends is merely an interlude between more significant plot developments.
In Agnes Varda’s Sans Toit Ni Loi a young woman wanders myopically through rural France. She seems neither to be running away from anything nor searching for something. She exhibits a cold disattachment to the world around her, both towards her environment and towards the people she meets. An example of this is when a farmer she meets offers her a caravan and a plot of land to grow potatoes on. Although this is exactly what she has expressed a wish for in an earlier scene she lets the opportunity go to waste, until her patron confronts her in confused exasperation. Like the three characters of La Haine she is a member of a group that has been historically controlled and persecuted. Thus the difference that she as a woman, and the three boys, as coming from different racial groups, maintain is almost a right to them. It is their defence against a world that has previously abused them and which continues to do so, albeit less atrociously as once before. Therefore Mona’s claim to have a love of solitude should not be such a shocking one, and nor should her disinterest in forming meaningful relationships or putting down roots. As a member of a persecuted society she is only doing what perhaps should always have been expected by the society of the white Caucasian male – defending herself and in doing so creating her own societal norms.
However, Mona is a difficult character to identify with. Her clash with the world is made clear from the start, where she is discovered lying dead in a ditch – a plot event that parallels the final moments of La Haine. Death is the ultimate declaration of incompatibility as it is the point at which the individual separates from the world they know, unable for whatever reason, to continue within it. The dullness of the land she travels through and its dry, arid appearance acts as a mirror to her own listless meandering. There is nothing that emboldens the landscape or draws the viewer’s attention. Everything is tatty – from the clothes that she wears to the tent she sleeps in. Even the conversations she instigates with people are bitty and uninformative, it is only when people really press her that she offers any real answers to her situation. This occurs in her meeting with the shepherd and his wife, who offer her the hand of kindness only to have her snidely criticise their way of life, claiming it to be worse than hers because they still attempt to ‘work’ and haven’t truly grasped the concept of dropout. The outburst, however, suggests that she does have strong emotions boiling beneath the surface, and this subsequently pushes the viewer to question her true reasons for living this nomadic lifestyle. Her accusation may prove to have some substance. Cousins writes of the ‘heritage film mould’ that is used in a working of Zola’s Germinal, and states ‘Here are reasonable, hard-working French people let down by the people they loyally serve’ (1999). The farmer in Sans Toit, with his Marxist philosophy, may be seen as just such an individual, choosing a humble way of life. However choice is the operative word here, he creates this lifestyle out of a personal ideology, which has its roots in French pastoral. For Mona this is a form of self-inflicted servitude which she cannot understand and makes no attempt to. She claims not to be running away from anything, or to anything in particular.  The use of sound is kept to a minimum and what is heard is mostly background rustle from the world, for instance the bleating of the goats and the rushing of the tides. It draws up images of a kind of wasted world, an almost post-apocalyptic one. Her pitch before she catches a ride with the lorry driver, is also dry and arid. The ground often looks charred. The people she meets are worn as well, from the lorry driver – who she derides for his less than palatial road-home, to the old shrunken woman who drinks with her in happy inanity. The self-chosen lifestyle of the farmer suggests this too – as Mona finds out, his Masters in Philosophy has not helped him rise, but seemingly to fall in an opposite, unambitious, direction. The bucolic depiction of his lifestyle – with his children and wife – hides a reality that is stunted and maddening. His wife is clearly in awe of him, and she stands diametrically opposite to Mona. Where one woman is the epitome of a traditional housewife, obedient and hardworking, Mona, having left her employees behind, rejects any kind of order and is answerable only to herself. This results in a lack of drive or content, and her emptiness engulfs the viewer so that they come both to pity and despise her.
La Haine sees the three boys used in a variety of ways to depict the attitude of the tempestuous banlieu subculture. Vinz is used as a vehicle for all the anger brimming within the estates and within the minds of a stunted young under-class. He is the most fascinating character and is the focus of each shot far more than either Hubert or Said. His redemption at the end of the film, when he voluntarily gives his gun to Hubert, is reminiscent of the literary bildungsroman. While Vinz starts out as an uncertain youth his final choice signifies a change in his attitude and understanding of the world he inhabits, and in turn immediately makes his character far more accessible to the viewer, who has been waiting throughout the film for him to self-destruct.
Hubert is a kind of window through which the madness and mayhem of the streets is observable. His colour is first and foremost the factor that makes him different, and the racism he comes up against while in police custody serves to elevate him to the level of a suffering and persecuted martyr. Certainly he has Herculean properties, both in his physical strength and in his struggling inner sense of justice. The final scene confirms this image, as he stands face-to-face with his enemy while still holding this tight sense of justice, and also the means with which to enforce it.
Said provides a light-hearted middleman, standing between the other two. His banter and relative innocence leads Vinz and Hubert to be protective towards him in a way they are not towards each other, and also leads them to try consistently to win him to their often opposite ways of thinking.
The bond between the three boys is important to note. Tarr claims, ‘the French approach to integration is to assume that ethnic minority Others must assimilate to the dominant culture rather than acknowledging and accepting minority cultures within a multicultural society’. In the art gallery the curator ejects the boys onto the street, as though they have no place amongst the gallery guests, explaining them away by saying they are from the suburbs. In the police station Said and Hubert are tied up and tormented by the police who enjoy their sport to a disturbing level, until they get bored and lock them up again.  When a car stops above the three friends while they sit in a playground, a reporter and cameraman lean out from the safety of their car. As they film, the three boys become more and more agitated at the reporter’s probing questions, leaving Vinz’s retort that they are not animals in a zoo ringing in the air, given the cameraman’s positioning and the defensive body-language of Hubert, Vinz and Said. Tarr’s claim is therefore supported in the film. The boys are perceived as outsiders, and are subsequently not considered to have the same rights as the rest of society, and consequently neither deserving of the same treatment as the rest of society. However, La Haine follows the three friends. It establishes their personalities. It expresses their feelings. This is a film from the point of view of those ‘Others’ that Tarr mentions. Therefore the responsibility to change lies not with them, but with the social institutions that antagonises them.
Both films deal with the themes of difference and exclusion. In La Haine this is explored through a montage of events that culminate in an eventual explosion. The film focuses on the friction that difference causes, not only between social classes but also between friends. Sans Toit Ni Loi deals with exclusion in a more total sense, depicting a complete severance of one individual from the people and places around her, to the extent that she has no means by which to sustain herself. The black and white of La Haine, the grainy deliverance of Sans Toit Ni Loi captures the feeling of curtailment and lethargy that pervades the films.


Cousins, R., 1999. The Heritage Film and Cultural Politics: Germinal (Berri, 1993). In Phil Powrie ed., French Cinema in the 1990s, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 25-36.

Konstantarakos, Myrto. 1999. La Haine (Kassovitz, 1995) and the cinema de banlieu. In Phil Powrie, ed. Ethnicity and Identity French Cinema in the 1990s. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 160-171.  

Tarr, Carrie., 1999. Ethnicity and Identity in the cinema de banlieu. In Phil Powrie, ed. Ethnicity and Identity French Cinema in the 1990s. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 172-184.

Powrie, Phil. 1999. Heritage, History and ‘New Realism’: French Cinema in the 1990s. In Phil Powrie ed., French Cinema in the 1990s, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-21.