“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
One cliché that happens to be true is that art can make people feel more connected to others. Almost everyone has a story about how they felt lost or alone, but then read a great novel or saw a fantastic movie and it made them feel less isolated. This can work in an interesting manner on a socio-political level. Great movies from different time periods can connect you to other people who dealt with similar issues in other eras. This is particularly true if you take a look at the resonant 1995 French film La Haine.
La Haine is about three working class friends named Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), Vinz (Vincent Cassel), and Hubert (Hubert Koundé). The film opens after the police have put their friend Abdel into a coma. As they travel around their housing project and the city of Paris, Vinz vows to kill a cop if Abdel dies.
You don’t need to have lived through the political turmoil of 1990’s France to identify with these characters. This film is excellent at making you empathize with them as they deal with the seemingly perennial issues of racism and police brutality. It is as easy to identify with the multi-ethnic cast of La Haine as it is to identify with the 19th century news baron Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane.
Watching these characters go through their struggles can give comfort to those with similar problems. Saïd, Vinz, and Hubert are not activists, but their stories in La Haine can remind people who fight for justice that they are not alone. Movements consisting of many people have fought similar fights, and even won a few victories. La Haine reminded me of a quote from historian Timothy Snyder: “History gives us the comfort of those who have done and suffered more than we have.”
But this comfort is not necessarily a warm and fuzzy one. It goes without saying that you cannot talk to Saïd, Vinz, and Hubert. But you also can’t talk to Makome M’Bowole, the real young man whose death in police custody inspired director Mathieu Kassovitz to start writing La Haine. History is littered with the bodies of those who have stood up for what is right. At best, you can have a kind of one-sided conversation with those people if they have left behind some writings.
Nevertheless, the comfort that comes from having a sense of history can be valuable. Fighting for change, particularly if you do so on the internet, can often feel like shouting into the distance while standing on top of a mountain. Films like La Haine can make you feel like someone is screaming alongside you.
La Haine was screened at IU Cinema in 2015 as part of the series Cultural Divides: Reflections on the Immigrant Experience in Europe.
Jesse Pasternack is a senior at Indiana University and the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He writes about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse is a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. He has directed four short films.