Monday, July 15

Exploring the Dark Side


Exploring the Dark Side

Mathieu Kassovitz, French cinema’s hottest young director,
brings ‘Hate’ to America with searing black-and-white visuals,
strong social significance and a masterful control that ‘rocked’
fellow filmmaker Jodie Foster

By Lael Loewenstein

Daily Bruin Contributor

Shy, soft-spoken and seemingly well-adjusted, Mathieu Kassovitz
is the last person you’d expect to have directed a film called
"Hate."

At 28, Kassovitz is one of France’s most promising young
filmmakers. On Saturday, his second feature, "Hate" ("La Haine"),
won best picture, best producer and best editing at the Césars
- the French equivalent of the Oscars. In addition, he picked up
the directing prize at Cannes and won top honors at the
Lumière Awards (tantamount to the Golden Globes) last
month.

A stark, powerful film about urban violence and racial hatred,
"Hate," which opens in America this Friday, has been a media
sensation in France. The film so impressed Jodie Foster that she
decided to release it in the United States through her production
company, Egg Pictures.

"The movie rocked me," Foster says in a written statement. "I
left my seat thinking, here is a young filmmaker who finally has
the maturity and depth to deal with urban unrest without losing his
soul."

Prime Minister Alain Juppé was equally impressed: In the
wake of several riots in the Paris suburbs last fall protesting
police killings of Arab youths, Juppé arranged a private
screening of "Hate" for his cabinet.

Accolades are not new to Kassovitz, who has been acclaimed for
his work on both sides of the camera. For his performance as a
retarded youth in "Regarde Les Hommes Tomber," he received a
César as most promising newcomer. He also wrote, directed and
starred in his first feature, the comedic "Café au Lait,"
prompting comparisons to Woody Allen and Spike Lee.

Like those filmmakers, Kassovitz has a highly original visual
style and shows signs of developing a well-articulated authorial
voice. He opted to shoot "Hate" in black and white, which gives its
scenes of violence a sense of heightened realism.

"For me, black and white made sense," says Kassovitz. "It gives
a pure and hard quality to the film. It’s a step removed from
reality at first, but then it takes you back to reality because the
black and white adds drama."

"Hate" tracks the nocturnal wandering of three friends, Vinz
(Vincent Cassel), Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Hubert
(Hubert Kound̩) РJew, Arab and African American,
respectively. Following a riot, their friend is beaten senseless
while in police custody. Stealing a policeman’s gun, the three
youths resolve to teach the cops a lesson, and journey from the
housing projects in the banlieue (suburbs) to Paris.

Kassovitz marks the transition from suburbs to city in an
impressive, complex shot of the three youths atop a roof. Starting
from a medium shot, the camera tracks back while the lens zooms in
close, giving the viewer a sense of precariousness that mirrors the
youths’ own discomfort.

"Hitchcock invented that in ‘Vertigo,’" Kassovitz says. "It had
a particular purpose in his film (to simulate Jimmy Stewart’s
psychological condition), but we use it in a different way, to make
a transition.

"The first part in the project we shot with wide lenses and
dolly shots because we wanted to show the guys as part of the
architecture," he explains. "But when they get to Paris, we used a
telephoto lens because we wanted them to be in focus and the rest
to be out of focus," which has the effect of making them seem
disjointed from their urban landscape.

At the same moment, the sound changes from stereo to mono,
adding to the feeling of claustrophobia.

"Sound is very important in my films," says Kassovitz. "That’s
why I love the Coen brothers’ work. They are masters of sound."

Kassovitz so admired the films of Joel and Ethan Coen ("Barton
Fink," "Raising Arizona") that he borrowed a sound segment – the
ticking of a clock – from his laser disc of "Hudsucker Proxy" and
used it in "Hate."

"After the mistakes of my first film, I learned two things from
watching the Coen brothers’ films – you have to write exactly what
you want to film, and then you have to film with a strong point of
view. When you look at Orson Welles’ films – he was a genius anyway
- the point of view in his films is so strong that he can’t be
wrong."

Freely making references to cinéastes like Hitchcock, Welle
and the Coens, Kassovitz has an encyclopedic knowledge of his
field. He waxes admiringly on filmmakers like Steven Spielberg,
citing the early works as among his favorites.

"’Duel’ (Spielberg’s first film) was brilliant because of what
he accomplished, in spite of the (spatial and financial)
limitations. That’s what I love about Spielberg – the way he films,
how he handles the camera, the intelligence he puts into his
direction. Even if he is sometimes less than what he was,
everything has a meaning. Nothing is wasted."

But you won’t find him supporting the work of America’s latest
wünderkind.

"I’m not a big fan of Tarantino," he declares. "He uses violence
gratuitously. In ‘Hate,’ there is violence, but the shooting is not
aesthetic like in Tarantino’s films. When you shoot somebody, it’s
dirty; it’s something that you don’t want to see."

Currently writing his next project, Kassovitz often peruses his
laser disc collection for inspiration.

"Lately, I’ve been watching ‘Heart of Darkness’ (the documentary
on Coppola’s troubled production of "Apocalypse Now"). When I’ve
got problems, I watch this film and then I think, he had problems.
I don’t have any problems."

Kassovitz also reaps motivation from the early work of Martin
Scorsese.

"’Mean Streets’ is my favorite film, even if it’s not Scorsese’s
best work," he says. "Even with the errors you find in the film,
the feeling that I get from ‘Mean Streets’ is a feeling of pure
cinema. No gimmicks, just his imagination. If I can touch that one
day, that’s where I want to go."

Director Mathieu Kassovitz helped to edit his film, "Hate" ("La
Haine"). The film won three Césars, including one for best
editing.

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