Presentation on theme: "The Legacy of Colonialism"— Presentation transcript:
1 The Legacy of Colonialism La Haine (dir. Matthieu Kassovitz)
2 La Haine: a postcolonial film? Race, Ethnicity and Immigration‘Les banlieues’La Haine
3 Race, Ethnicity and Immigration Brief history of immigrationPost WWII reconstructionNorth African immigrants (the Maghreb)million immigrantsmillion immigrantsDOM-TOMLike Britain, immigrants have been coming to live and work in France for many centuries. Immigrants have often been encouraged to enter France as the country needed more manpower to fulfil its economic goals. After the Second World War, for example, the French government, short of workers and conscious of the need to rebuild France after 4 years of occupation, sought migrant workers. It encouraged workers from nearby European countries such as Italy, Yugoslavia and Portugal. Such immigrants were thought to be close enough in cultural terms to the French to settle and assimilate into French society.From the late 1950s recruitment for unskilled construction and factory work turned increasingly to North Africa, which the French had colonised in the C19th. Immigrants from Algeria, in particular, and especially young men, came in large numbers to work as factory or construction workers. Conditions were hard. They lived in ‘bidonvilles’ – shanty towns on the outskirts of large cities, and tensions between the immigrant worker populations and the French residents increased during the Algerian war (58-62). Algerians were frequently stigmatised, seen as undesirable and potentially criminal, and were the target of right-wing racist groups.Since then 1946, then, the number of immigrants has grown from 1.74 million to 4.16 million in 1990, although immigrants still represent roughly the same percentage of the population (6-8%) as they did in About 14 million people – a quarter of the population of France – are the children or grandchildren of immigrants of some description. In 1992 the biggest immigrant group in France was the Portuguese, followed by the Algerians. In addition, 340,000 people born in the DOM-TOM (Overseas Dominions and Territories) such as Martinique and Guadeloupe also live in France.
4 Race, Ethnicity and Immigration French by birthFrench by naturalizationForeign workersThere are three main legal categories of people referred to as immigrants in France – those who are French by birth, those who are French by naturalization and those who retain their foreign nationality but live and work in France.The status of some migrants has changed over time. For example, Algerians were considered to be French until their country became independent in Today special bilateral arrangements apply to their right of entry and they have to choose aged 18 whether to take Algerian or French nationality.So immigrants in France have come from many different countries and racial groups, but they are not all regarded in the same way in contemporary French society. Certain groups are singled out as being more ‘different’ than others.
5 Race, Ethnicity and Immigration Changing economic climate: 1970s and 1980sRising unemployment ratesJean-Marie Le Pen’s Front NationalLoi Méhaignerie 1993Fear of Muslim fundamentalismThis is partly because of the changing economic climate. Since the 1970s, with major industrial restructuring and growing unemployment, the need for immigrant labour has been questioned. The main emphasis has been on the restriction of more ‘new’ immigrants in favour of the proper integration of the people already in the country and the arrival of their families. In the 1980s, the economic recession began to give rise to higher levels of unemployment and insecurity about future job prospects. This was exploited by the far right, such as the party ‘Le Front National’ led by Jean-Marie Le Pen. They blamed immigration, and particularly immigration from North Africa, for every social evil.The cohabitation government between Chirac and Mitterrand tightened the controls on immigration, and many illegal immigrants were rounded up and deported. In the late 1980s the government proposed to end the automatic right to nationality for people born in France, the ‘droit du sol’. This gave right to a major debate about what it meant to be French, and the law was not implemented until 1993 (Loi Mehaignerie).The socialists were back in governments from 1988 to 1993, and the emphasis passed to policies more favourable to integration. The desecration of a Jewish cemetery in 1990, and several incidents in the last 10 yrs, have revealed to the nation’s horror the continuing influence of anti-Semitism.But the outbreak of the Gulf war and fear of terrorist attacks connected to Muslim fundamentalism has led to a tightening once again of regulations and the introduction of Draconian identity controls. Immigration, integration, and particularly the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, have become central political issues in France. Unemployment and the economic crisis in France has superseded earlier views that migrants were needed post-WW2 to help rebuild France’s prosperity, and immigrants. More frequently these days, North African, and particularly North African muslims, are blamed for being ‘unassimiliable’.
6 Assimilation or Cultural Difference? Liberty, Equality, FraternityL’affaire du foulard‘If all citizens are equal, what space is there to understand social stratification based on gender, ethnic group or income?’Cathy Lloyd in Modern France, ed. Malcolm CookThe concepts of race and ethnicity in relation to French identity is a highly controvertial topic in France today. The French Republican ideas of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ are opposed to the idea of the idfferentiation of people by aspects such as race, religion or class. However, there is a conflict between this view of ‘equality’, and the notion of and respect for racial and ethnic ‘difference’. This conflict can be clearly seen currently in the ‘affaire du foulard’, the debate as to whether Muslim girls should be permitted to wear the headscarf at French schools (a law has been passed banning the scarf). Those in favour of the ban argue that school should be a ‘neutral’ place, where students can learn in a free and unbiased environment. Those against argue that people should have the right to express their ethnic and cultural difference, or their religious beliefs.Notions of ethnic difference sit uneasily with the Republican idea of equality, and acceptance of the central values of French society, through assimilation. This runs the risk that real inequalities between citizens might be ignored. Cathy Lloyd, in her chapter in Modern France, asks ‘If all citizens are equal, what space is there to understand social stratification based on gender, ethnic group or income? Neither does the idea of an equal citizenry provide any guidance regarding the position of foreigners living in France who are the main subjects of contemporary debates on race and ethnicity’.France’s attitude to its immigrant population is thus fundamentally different to a country like Britain. Here, although right-wing racist groups equally have support in certain areas of the country, the notion of ‘British Asians’, for example, is one that is widely accepted by mainstream politicians. This stems in part from a different attitude during colonisation of other countries in the C19th. As France built up its empire, especially in the 1880s, it was inspired by the idea of a worldwide mission to foster French culture. The military and economic gains of colonisation were often hidden behind a rhetoric of ‘civilization’, in which the coloured people would be enlightened by the ideals of the French Revolution. It is an irony that the idea of liberty and the right to self-determination were, in turn, taken up by anti-colonial movements and turned against the French colonizers. Becoming part of the French empire meant being assimilated into French society. But altho’ assimilation has taken place in some cases, it often provides only the illusion of equality.The conflict between ‘assimilation’ and ‘ethnic/racial difference’ is exacerbated by the fact that many immigrants belong to the lowest income groups in French society, and this is what I’m going to talk about now.
7 Les banlieues 1955-1975 3 million ‘logements sociaux’ Les HLM (Habitations à Loyer Modéré)‘Les banlieues’ and ethnic minoritiesThe ‘ghettos’ of France?Sarcelles in 1990, 80 nationalitiesLa Haine/Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)La Haine is set in Les banlieues’. What are they?The 1970s was a period of economic change and economic growth. There was a general shift from rural to urban areas, and this along with an increase in immigration, and a ‘baby boom’ caused an acute shortage of accommodation. In order to try and combat this problem, there were 3 million council properties, les ‘logements sociaux’ built between 1955 and 1975 to help meet France’s housing needs. These years are sometimes called ‘les annees de beton’, in which bulldozers and cement mixers worked over time to clear France’s overcrowded inner city slums and bidonvilles and produced what were to be clean, modern, superior homes, in which large high-rise estates (seen as the housing of the future in the 50s and 60s) in suburban districts.These are ‘les banlieues’, and the new homes called the HLM and the large estates called ‘Les grands ensembles’ or ‘cites’.The optimism of the vision of clean and modern homes for all didn’t last long. The economic recession of the 70s and 80s began to have a dramatic effect on social cohesion and the living conditions of les banlieues. The housing estates built close to factories found that when the factories closed they found themselves with a large proportion of unemployed tenants who were stranded in a suburban desert. With the economic downturn, the wealthier residents who were still working began to leave and buy houses elsewhere. They left behind them communities that were increasingly made up of those on low incomes. The feelings of isolation created by the geographical isolation of les banlieues from the city were exacerbated by the decline in living conditions. Rather than dream homes, they began to be perceived as a problem.The rise in the immigrant population on the poorer estates – immigrants were often allocated accommodation in the worst estates – led to the perception, prevalent amongst many residents and perpetuated by right-wing groups such as the FN that the living conditions of the estates were the fault of the immigrant tenants. The economic deprivation and frustration led to numerous riots from the 1980s onwards, and to a growing parallel ‘economie de la rue’ or ‘economie parallele’ of drug dealing and robbery. This intensified the public fear of the estates and led to accusations that the North and West African immigrants, especially young men, were the cause of the deterioration of conditions.Many journalists began to claim that the ‘banlieues’ in France were the same as ghettos in American cities such as the Bronx or Harlem. But there is little evidence to support this claim. Despite their heavy concentration of residents from ethnic minorities, France’s banlieues are much more mixed than American ghettoes, and the violence and crime are at much lower levels despite riots and frequent clashes with the police. French banlieues are more multi-ethnic than mono-ethnic. A study of Sarcelles in 1990, for example, revealed a mix of around 80 nationalities. This was in effect a policy of housing departments who wanted to encourage ‘la mixite sociale’. There are certain banlieues that are more mono-ethnic (Venissieux in Lyon), but this isn’t the norm. So Kassovitz’s representation of different races in La Haine – although this is symbolic and stylized – is not unrealistic. It is helpful to compare La Haine in this respect with Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, which shows African American clashing violently with Italian Americans. In Lee’s film, ethnicity is what divides people whereas in La H, Vinz, Said and Hubert are from different ethnic groups (Jewish, North African and West African), but are united by their lower socio-economic status and opposition to the French authorities and wealthier members of the population.So ‘la banlieue’ in France conjures up lots of negative images – images which are not present in the dictionary translation of ‘suburb’ which suggests leafy green streets. ‘La banlieue’ suggests drugs, crime, delinquency, civil disorder, riots, Islamic fundamentalism and even terrorism. It is more akin to some of the rougher council states and other inner cities areas of UK cities.But the images conjured up by ‘la banlieue’ are more related to the fear in French citizens than the reality for the most part. The scene in LH where the 3 heroes are questioned over a fence by a journalist is a commentary on the attitudes to and fear of la banlieue in France. Hubert shouts ‘on n’est pas a Thoiry ici’ and when Vinz asks ‘C’est quoi Thoiry’ Hubert replies ‘c’est un zoo qu’on traverse en voiture’. Their estate is seen by the journalists, in other words as a safari park full of wild animals, where middle-class professionals like the reporters and camera crew dare not enter for fear of their lives, but are luridly attracted to the violence and events that happen there.
8 La Haine (1995) Social documentary? Characters Plot Allusions to other filmsCamerawork, sound and editingMatthieu Kassovitz was inspired by a real-life incident in which an 18 yr old black youth was shot dead by a police officer during interrogation in The story of LH and specifically the ‘spark’ of the shooting of Abdel are thus rooted in reality. Vincent Cassel, who plays Vinz in the film, is quoted as saying ‘A kid got shot in the 18th arrondissement and maybe 500 people came to the demonstration in the street. 2 million people came to see our movie. People might reproach us for doing a movie like this, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.LH is low-budget, and is filmed in black and white. It is shot on location on a housing estate called La cite de la noe, and little-known actors, combined with the constant references to TV reports add to the notion of it as a kind of documentary. Certainly, LH deals with contemporary social issues – unemployment, social exclusion, racial conflict, suburban decay, criminality, violence – in a way French films of the 1980s and 1990s had tended not to do . Its portrayal caused enormous controversy – some suggest, for example, that the police are represented as violent, racist and uncomprehending which is a massive generalisation, and that its attitude to the excluded, multi-ethnic surburban youth is too sympathetic, if not indulgent. One reason it caused such as stir when it was released (it was seen by half a million in the first 6 weeks of its release, and Kassovitz won best director at Cannes) was because its ‘social documentary’ style broke with the trends and preoccupations of French cinema in the 80s and 90s. LH’s gritty realism has nothing in common with ‘heritage films’ like Cyrano de Bergerac, Jean de Florette or with ‘les films du look’ such as Subway, Diva and Nikita. It’s also very different from recent feel-good hits like Amelie or Les Choristes, that was nominated for an oscar this week.CharactersIt is wrong however to say that LH is ‘realistic’ or is a ‘documentary’. In many ways it is a highly stylized film, I.e. it makes it obvious to the spectators that what we’re watching is an artificially constructed film and not TV footage of real events. This can be seen for example in the characters. The 3 main characters – Vinz (Jewish), Said (North African), Hubert (West African) – are representative. Instead of the bleu, blanc and rouge of the tricolor we have the beur (Arab), blanc (juif) and ‘black’ of the banlieues. We only have their first names, which are the same as the actor’s names, which suggests they are not fully-rounded characters but are more symbolic. Their names are all introduced by a visual device – Said sprays his name ona police van, Vinz wears his name as a knuckleduster, and we see Hubert’s name on a boxing poster.The fact that they are ‘representative’, symbolic characters can also be seen in the setting of the film. Hubert’s bedroom, for example, in which he listens to black US music, is full of symbols of the black civil rights movement – the black power salute of US athlete Tommie Smith in 1968, and Mohammed Ali who refused to be called up to fight for his country. He is thus made into a representative for the struggle by African blacks to find respect and an identity in Western countries. V
9 La Haine (1995) Social documentary? ‘A kid got shot in the 18th arrondissement and maybe 500 people came to the demonstration in the street. 2 million people came to see our movie’ Vincent CasselMatthieu Kassovitz was inspired by a real-life incident in which an 18 yr old black youth was shot dead by a police officer during interrogation in The story of LH and specifically the ‘spark’ of the shooting of Abdel are thus rooted in reality. Vincent Cassel, who plays Vinz in the film, is quoted as saying ‘A kid got shot in the 18th arrondissement and maybe 500 people came to the demonstration in the street. 2 million people came to see our movie. People might reproach us for doing a movie like this, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.LH is low-budget, and is filmed in black and white. It is shot on location on a housing estate called La cite de la noe, and little-known actors, combined with the constant references to TV reports add to the notion of it as a kind of documentary. Certainly, LH deals with contemporary social issues – unemployment, social exclusion, racial conflict, suburban decay, criminality, violence – in a way French films of the 1980s and 1990s had tended not to do . Its portrayal caused enormous controversy – some suggest, for example, that the police are represented as violent, racist and uncomprehending which is a massive generalisation, and that its attitude to the excluded, multi-ethnic surburban youth is too sympathetic, if not indulgent. One reason it caused such as stir when it was released (it was seen by half a million in the first 6 weeks of its release, and Kassovitz won best director at Cannes) was because its ‘social documentary’ style broke with the trends and preoccupations of French cinema in the 80s and 90s. LH’s gritty realism has nothing in common with ‘heritage films’ like Cyrano de Bergerac, Jean de Florette or with ‘les films du look’ such as Subway, Diva and Nikita. It’s also very different from recent feel-good hits like Amelie or Les Choristes, that was nominated for an oscar this week.
10 La Haine (1995) Characters Characters It is wrong however to say that LH is ‘realistic’ or is a ‘documentary’. In many ways it is a highly stylized film, I.e. it makes it obvious to the spectators that what we’re watching is an artificially constructed film and not TV footage of real events. This can be seen for example in the characters. The 3 main characters – Vinz (Jewish), Said (North African), Hubert (West African) – are representative. Instead of the bleu, blanc and rouge of the tricolor we have the beur (Arab), blanc (juif) and ‘black’ of the banlieues. We only have their first names, which are the same as the actor’s names, which suggests they are not fully-rounded characters but are more symbolic. Their names are all introduced by a visual device – Said sprays his name ona police van, Vinz wears his name as a knuckleduster, and we see Hubert’s name on a boxing poster.The fact that they are ‘representative’, symbolic characters can also be seen in the setting of the film. Hubert’s bedroom, for example, in which he listens to black US music, is full of symbols of the black civil rights movement – the black power salute of US athlete Tommie Smith in 1968, and Mohammed Ali who refused to be called up to fight for his country. He is thus made into a representative for the struggle by African blacks to find respect and an identity in Western countries. Vinz’s Jewishness is empahsised in his home, his dreams about dancing to Jewish music, and his grandmother who is a stereotypical Jewish matriarch. Said’s protective stance towards his sister and contacts amongst the Arab community also emphasise his cultural differences – they are all 2nd generation immigrants, with ties to their cultures but united by their common experiences of growing up in France. They are representative of oppressed groups in society and form part of a large oppressed group – unemployed working-class young males on housing estates. But their very representative nature makes them less ‘realistic’ in terms of characters.
11 La Haine (1995) Plot Time Jusqu’ici tout va bien C17th classical drama The plot is also distanced from ‘real life’. Time, for example, is manipulated in LH. Although on one level nothing much happens in the film, the ticking clock and inclusion of specific times in the day builds up tension and suspense. We sense that the film is building towards a climax – the death of Abdel and the promise by Vinz that he will shoot a policeman if this happens (altho’ of course at the end it is Vinz and the policeman who are both killed). We should perhaps say that the film ‘crashes’ towards its climax. One way of understanding the structure of the film is to compare it to the story told by Hubert at the beginning and twice towards the end of the film about a man who falls out of a high-rise building and as he passes each floor says ‘jusqu’ici tout va bien’. The question is how you land. The film’s plot is one long fall to a fatal crash at the end. But in a metaphorical sense it could also be French society that is crashing – ‘man’ is substituted for ‘la societe’ the 3rd time the story is told. In other words, the way that certain social groups in France are isolated and feel excluded and alienated is eventually going to explode…Another interesting thing about the structure of LH is that it follows the rules of C17th classical theatre. In the C17th, plays had to follow 3 strict rules: the action had to happen within 24 hours, it had to happen in one single location, and death had to happen off-stage. LH follows these rules, at least to some extent, and in many ways resembles a classical tragedy, where the audience begins to have a sinking feeling that it’s all going to end badly…
12 La Haine (1995) Allusions to other films Taxi Driver Mean Streets Boyz N. The HoodThe fact that LH is a film, a cultural representation of contemporary French society, and not a documentary is also emphasised by reference to other films.Taxi Driver – Vinz sees himself as Travis Bickle, ‘you talking to me?’ to try to make himself the hard man capable of brutal acts of violence that he wants to be.Mean Streets – especially in terms of camerawork, music and relationships between characters and their environment.Boy z The hood (91) = doleful future for young black men in the US – also other US ‘gangster’ films such as Juice and New Jack City.Clear that the characters get their inspiration from American films – but tragedy of film is that Vinz does end up dead – not in the script.
13 La Haine (1995) Camerawork Sound Editing The success of LH is only partly due to its controversial context. It was equally successful because of its innovative cinematic techniques, for which it won prizes. The unusual film techniques are perhaps not immediately obvious, they’re visually exciting but not flashy, no special effects. But incredibly important aspect of film.CameraworkKassovitz worked very closely with his cinematographer and his camera operator. The camerawork changes in the two halves of the film – the part set in the estate and the part set in Paris. In the first half of the film, lenses are short/wide angle, and in Paris they are long/telephoto. A short lens produces a wide angle effect so that compared to normal human vision, objects appear further away but more of the scene can be crammed in. A long lens has the opposite effect, of cutting out the dead ground between the viewer and a distant object so it seems closer. So for the estate scene, LH uses wide angle shots – nearly everything is in focus. [show clip silently behind?] For example, when Vinz and Said are walking through the estate to meet Hubert at the gym. The long take begins with a low-angle shot, with the camera tilting down to normal eye level. V & S walk into the frame from behind the camera. They carry on walking and the camera follows them a little way and then stops by a petrol pump daubed with graffiti. V & S walk on into the background and to the gym. The whole scene is in focus. This shows how the characters are part of, they belong to the desolate environment of the estate they live in.In Paris, though, the camerawork changes. [show clip] Hubert closes his eyes on the train and when he opens them the three youths are lined up against a balcony wall overlooking the city. The camera shifts so we feel as if we’re on top of the characters.The effect is disorientating, and emphasises the change in location, and the fact that the characters also feel ‘out of place’ and disorientated away from the estate.Another distinctive feature of the camerawork in LH is the use of the moving camera. This gives fluidity to the footage on the estate. He uses a wide range of shots but not in a way that breaks up the overall style. There is a key camera shot when the DJ is mixing on the decks, like a helicopter shot. The camera soars above the estate, as if the music is lifting him above his environment, allowing him to escape in a way the earlier shots don’t allow the characters to escape from their environment.SoundThe estate scenes have a stereo track, Paris scenes have a mono track. The estate then seems like a ‘real’ environment – noisy, interrupting characters. Paris, quieter, more mysterious, less ‘real’. Atmosphere of the estate is built up using layers of ambient sound – cars, trains, dogs, shouting, motorbikes. The sound echoes around the open spaces, reverberating on the hard walls of the apartment blocks. It is effective when Said is shouting up to Vinz’s sister, and the neighbour shouts back at him.Sometimes, the community are united by sound – scene we’ve just seen has the DJ playing ‘Nique la police’ by NTM mixed with Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien’. Sums up the attitude of the residents to the previous night’s riot.EditingIt is editing that creates the tension in the film. The film is edited very effectively, jumping from shot to shot in order to create certain effects. Some of the film is MTV style, emphasising the cuts for contrast and energy – other bits use smooth, seamless editing where you hardly notice it (credit sequence riot shots). Smooth montage is cut with explosive transitions. One of the most memorable is when Vinz is doing his Travis Bickel impression in front of the mirror and pretends to fire a gun. We hear an explosion and the film jumps to another shot. The broken rhythm helps to build up tension, we sense that there’s a time-bomb ticking and that will eventually go off.ConclusionLH is a landmark film for 2 reasons. First, it broke with tradition, in terms of both style and content. Second, it broke the silence about the problems of ‘les banlieues’ and fears about them. Throughout the summer of 1995 it stimulated news stories, not least because it attracted youth audiences to see what is often called an ‘auteur’ film – a film that is not the product of a Hollywood studio system, but a film that is the work of a single director expressing his creative vision. A CD release of the film music was followed by a CD of rap music inspired by the film. There was a special screening of the film to French Cabinet ministers. Kassovitz was felt to have put his finger on the nation’s pulse.But is there a message to the film? It’s ambiguous. The various stories that are flagged up in the film as important are difficult to interpret – the man falling out of the building, the man running after the train with his trousers down. But the aim of the film is to make people think about the issues in non-biaised and complicated ways.
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