New On Blu-ray: "La Haine" (The Film Spike Lee Called A Complete Rip-Off Of "Do The Right Thing")

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 8, 2012 4:49 PM
5 Comments
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I wouldn't say La Haine and Do The Right Thing are forever to be intertwined; but it's rare that I come across a paper or enter a discussion about the former film without the latter being mentioned as an influence, or in some cases, a flatout ripoff. 

Just ask Spike Lee, who, as you'll see in the video clip below, strongly believes in his film's influence over Frenchman Mathieu Kassovitz's incendiary feature film debut that I saw for the first time some 5 years after its debut, and absolutely loved! I can't say that I immediately saw any resemblances to Do The Right Thing (I didn't have the knowledge I have today), but it's hard to argue against Spike's claims.

Other than the use of word "incendiary" to describe both films, and that both take place over a 24-hour period, in impoverished residential areas... and as Criterion adds below:

Both Do the Right Thing and La haine exist in a rarefied space, where there is seemingly no before or after, only now. Both trade elements of realism for abstraction in order to make their point, and both use an electrified visual style to give their parables life. Movement is important in these movies: the characters keep moving, and so does the camera. Kassovitz and director of photography Pierre Aïm borrow Ernest Dickerson's energetic use of all four corners of the image frame. They prowl around their scenes like an animal on the hunt, cajoling their characters into action by pushing in fast, rapidly removing the space between viewer and subject, leaving them nowhere else to go. Both films also use hiphop as the aural companion to the visuals. La haine replaces Mister Señor Love Daddy and Public Enemy with French DJ Cut Killer, who in one scene splices together KRS-One's "Sound of Da Police" with Edith Piaf and sends the music soaring out over his friends and neighbors.

You could actually say that La Haine serves as a sort of sequel to Do The Right Thing in that is chronicles 24 hours in the life of a French ghetto, the day AFTER residents of the area riot and loot in protest of police brutality against an Arab youth. Do The Right Thing takes place the day of an act of police brutality, chronicling all the events that lead up to it.

Or maybe a more accurate description would be Do The Right Thing in reverse.

Early performances by Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde, and Said Taghmaoui (a Jew, an African, and an Arab, respectively), are electrifying, playing young men, somewhat hopeless, without jobs, few prospects, who waste away their day wandering the streets, getting involved in fights between other youth, racist skinheads, as well as the police, all accompanied by lots of rapid-fire dialogue littered with pop culture references, and the typical braggadocio that young men often engage in - all building up to a tragic finale; but it's really about the journey that leads up to that end, than the end itself, which felt forced to me.

The story goes that Jodie Foster was so impressed with La Haine (which translates as Hate) when she saw it at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival that she helped arrange American distribution for the film through her production company.

It's now on Blu-ray, released today in glorious black and white, with lots of extra features, including an 80-minute documentary titled Ten Years of “La haine” which brings together cast and crew a decade after the film’s landmark release. And I recommend it if you haven't seen it yet. What better way to do so than in the highest quality format currently available on home video.

And about Spike's annoyance that Kassovitz never credited Do The Right Thing as being of influence on La Haine... watch below; skip to the 9:50 mark for the juicy stuff :) And a pair of teasers for La Haine in one clip underneath:

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5 Comments

  • Andre Seewood | May 9, 2012 8:14 AMReply

    I can't believe that Spike Lee would say such things against Kassovitz's LA HAINE. DO THE RIGHT THING and LA HAINE have totally different themes, visual styles and conflicts. This is not to say that Kassovitz wasn't inspired by Lee's powerful masterpiece DO THE RIGHT THING, as many of us filmmakers here and abroad were when Lee's film came out, but to say that Kassovitz "ripped off" DO THE RIGHT THING is a gross overstatement. The social conflicts in France, although racial and class based, affect the culture of France in a qualitatively different manner than what's going here in the States. The last time you heard of a Jew, a Black and a White coming together here in the US was back in the Sixties and we all remember the horrifying result. Whereas in LA HAINE three distinct racial and ethnic types (A Black, A Jew, and an Arab - en francais "Beur, Black, Blanc") represent a class and age of people who are "persecuted" by the centralized and autocratic government of France which wants to eradicate ethnic and racial differences through National allegiance. On the surface the difference between the two films is immediate: DO THE RIGHT THING is in color, LA HAINE is in B&W. On a narrative level, DO THE RIGHT THING reveals the events and conflicts that lead to a riot, whereas LA HAINE captures the events and conflicts that persist just after a riot the day before the film begins. Although both films use Hip-Hop as a musical score and their stories concentrate on a particular neighborhood where the youth are in conflict with the police the similarities stop here. LA HAINE uses a mixture of French Hip-Hop (Le Rap Francais), American Hip-Hop (KRS-One), French traditional music (Edith Piaf, "Moi, je ne regrette rien") and American funk music (Zapp, The Gap Band). Both films have dynamic cinematography and sound design, but that doesn't mean the Kassovitz and Aim ripped off Lee and Dickerson: it's just called creativity. It's this divisive and intractable character flaw in Spike Lee that is so irritating to so many people and alienates him from other filmmakers and fans who enjoy some of his movies but are loath to hear him speak.

  • T'Challa | May 9, 2012 8:35 AM

    Well said brotha, well said..

  • bbbailey | May 9, 2012 2:27 AMReply

    Spike's a hack.

  • T'Challa | May 8, 2012 6:28 PMReply

    One thing Spike Lee does is complain alot.. I actually thought La Haine was a better film. Much more intense and the ending was crazy..

  • Helluva | May 8, 2012 5:27 PMReply

    I remember viewing this and loving it back in the 90's although I don't remember the film so much. And certainly didn't see a (direct) connection to "Do The Right Thing" at that time. Might be worth a second viewing to gain some perspective free of the influence of that time period.

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