- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

Had “La Haine” (meaning “Hate”) been released in French theaters last year, it would have been a prescient look at the societal unrest plaguing Paris’ seedier suburbs.

But the highly regarded feature is 12 years old, and its new Criterion Collection repackaging stands as a tribute not just to its craft, but to its sadly accurate vision.

The two-disc set, released April 17, features an introduction by Jodie Foster, an early proponent of the film, along with a new documentary dubbed “Social Dynamite” and writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz’s commentary.

“La Haine” follows three disillusioned men — Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Kounde) and Said (Said Taghmaoui) — who drift through their days in a run-down housing project. Tensions between their neighbors and the police are spiking as the story opens. One of the group’s buddies is clinging to life after a beating by local police. That’s the main thread connecting the day’s events for the trio, who bicker and rage about their lives in between blasting law enforcement.

At one point, Vinz picks up a police officer’s gun, a move that raises the already high stakes for him and his pals.

The gun’s presence alters the power balance between Vinz and his inner circle and the cops who seem to appear around every other corner.

American audiences will identify easily with Mr. Kassovitz’s second feature. Hip-hop music blares from the soundtrack, and the characters are steeped in U.S. pop culture. A semicomic sequence involves Vinz posing before a mirror while doing his best De Niro imitation — “You talkin’ to me?”

Mr. Kassovitz clearly places some blame on a violent U.S. culture, but his screenplay isn’t so facile or didactic.

Shot in rich black and white, “La Haine” could switch settings from Paris to downtown Los Angeles and probably work more or less the same, dramatically speaking.

However, Paris’ racial and social unrest surpasses anything found on our West Coast, and that anger finds a powerful symbol in Vinz and the gang. It’s no accident that the three lead characters represent distinct racial groups. Vinz is Jewish, Hubert is black, and Said is of Arab descent.

“Dynamite” lets a few sociologists describe the roots of the social tensions illustrated in “La Haine.” They break down the poor subcultures in both American and French societies over the past 100 years and offer a variety of prescriptions to prevent future violence. They don’t go near what role radical Islam may or may not play in recent events.

Mr. Kassovitz got the idea for “La Haine” after a young man was killed by police during a routine interrogation. He said shooting in black and white was both a nod to his budgetary constraints and a way to appear “artistic.” His comments reveal how strongly he identifies with the poor immigrants throughout France, but “La Haine” shrewdly paints them as equal partners in the growing mayhem.

Christian Toto

Local takes on Tribeca

The Tribeca Film Festival, which started Wednesday, was founded five years ago in response to the September 11 attacks with a mission to promote New York City filmmaking, but one District filmmaker is getting his shot at fame there.

Ryan Richmond’s feature “Money Matters” is one of 32 films being presented as part of Tribeca All Access. The program was designed to foster relationships between industry executives and filmmakers from traditionally underrepresented communities. The filmmakers whose projects were chosen from more than 300 entries get an exceptional opportunity to meet with more than 100 potential investors, development executives, producers and agents.

“I’m very excited,” Mr. Richmond says, speaking by telephone on the train up to New York. “That force field,” he says of Hollywood, “is kind of hard to break into.”

“Money Matters,” Mr. Richmond explains, is “about a young girl just starting high school and her faith is being put to the test as she encounters sex, gangs and her absentee father re-entering her life.” He wrote it with his home base in mind.

Mr. Richmond is just 28, but the writer-director and former child theater actor already has captured the attention of one of Hollywood’s best-known filmmakers. “Money Matters” originally was a short film and in that incarnation garnered this plug from Spike Lee: “I liked this short film, and I eagerly look forward to his next work.”

It was persistence that earned Mr. Richmond that notice. He is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Film School. Mr. Lee, Oscar-nominated for “Do the Right Thing,” teaches a graduate class at the school — but Mr. Richmond attended as an undergraduate.

“I snuck in,” he says with a laugh. “He teaches the last year of graduate students, an elite class.”

Mr. Richmond, who also works as a cinematographer, had worked with a number of those students on their films. “He was so impressed that they didn’t kick me out, he let me stay,” Mr. Richmond says. He went on to assist Mr. Lee on his 2002 film “25th Hour.”

If you can’t make it up to New York, you can see Mr. Richmond’s work locally. A documentary he co-directed, “The God of a Second Chance,” plays at Filmfest DC tomorrow afternoon at 4. Shot in Anacostia, the film soon will be turned into a three-hour television special.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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