Last year, when space invaders-come-to-the-ghetto comedy Attack the Block was released it was a delightful surprise to finally see a sci-fi take on the hood film. Attack the Block achieved such a good balance of so many genres because director/ writer Joe Cornish showed that it’s somehow kind of funny when adrenaline courses through your body because you have a knife held up to your gut. Whether watching the constantly hoodied Moses (John Boyega) and his crew of adolescent goof ball cronies roam through the high browed streets of Kennington, looking for a helpless girl to mug, stomping out aliens like they were rival gang members, or being chased down by drug lords- Attack the Block is the entertaining genre concoction that it is because its chief concern is the portrayal of youth culture. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen young punks wander streets where they don’t belong. Showing at TIFF’s Next Wave Festival, Mathieu Kassovitz’ La Haineis the best example of the where this well crafted medley of hood politics, social issues, and beauty got its start, and is a must see.
In Attack the Block, Moses and his boys navigate maze-like apartment complexes, smoke weed with dopey drug dealers (Nick Frost was perfect here), and talk about FIFA and girls. Partially carried on the back of its young actors’ excellent performances, Attack the Block’s innovative representation of the hood is only replicating a mould that was etched in stone 15 years earlier with the release La Haine. Opening with eerie, grainy black and white footage we hear a young man scream at a line of stiff riot officers: “Murderers, easy for you to gun us down, all we got is rocks!”. Directed by, and briefly starring, Mathew Kassovitz, La Haine tells the story of 3 young men: Vinz (Vincent Cassel) the Jewish b-boy wannabe fuelled by an intense hatred for the police, Hubert (Hubert Kounde) the Afro-French aspiring boxer and occasional drug dealer, and the Meghrebin tuff guy- clown Said Tagmaoui. After a riot breaks out in their housing project, Kassovitz does his best to show the tense conditions between the police and the youths living in impoverished housing. But when Vinz gets his hands on a riot officer’s lost pistol, Vinz, Hubert, and Said each find themselves struggling to figure out where to draw the line between right and wrong in the angry and chaotic world that surrounds them.
Kassovitz gives us a raw portrayal of the essence of the street: kids gathered on roof tops cooking hot dogs and smoking joints, break dancing in project hall ways, we even see Hubert playfully bounce a syringe between his shoes. However, the ethereal and candid nature of hood life that Kassovitz’ gives us access to is ephemeral, as Said and his friends are harassed by the police more times than I can count- and all before 5:00 (a sharp detail that is a result of Kassovitz’ brilliant ‘real time’ aspect to the film). When DJ Cut Killer turns his enormous speakers to face the project court yard and warms up his turn tables, Kassovizt’s also gets ready to broadcast his message loud and clear. Here we see the Chimera like essence of the hood: the beat and rhythm of the street literally being sweetly broadcasted over the entire neighbourhood, while all of the project’s inhabitants carry out their actions- for better or for worse. As Cut Killer’s “Nique La Police” (Fuck the Police) blares over the entire hood, La Haine situates itself a formidable symphony of the street, effortlessly blending issues of police brutality, the futile nature of hate, and the beauty that strives in even the dirtiest and uncared for corners of our societies.
As a scrawny custy stands in wait for the elevator on his way the weed grow op in Attack the Block, hearing KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police” (sample material for Cut Killer’s mix in La Haine) blare over his headphones, we’re reminded that the problems youths faced nearly 15 years ago still team the streets of rich upper class neighbourhoods today, whether we’d like to acknowledge the existence of these packs of bandanna clad teens or not. It has been films and stories like La Haine (based on real events from Kassovitz’ life) that are so integral to the expression of youth culture. La Haine screens at 12:30 pm this Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.