Image description: La Haine, as screened in the Arts Center with the performance by the Asian Dub Foundation. To either side, the phrases
Image description: La Haine, as screened in the Arts Center with the performance by the Asian Dub Foundation. To either side, the phrases


La Haine, a timeless piece, now with an original soundtrack

A review of the screening of La Haine, with an original soundtrack by Asian Dub Foundation, along with background on the production of the film and the events that inspired it.

Sep 25, 2023

“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good ... so far so good ... so far so good. How you fall doesn't matter. It's how you land!” ~Hubert, La Haine
An old joke about a naive optimist, and a story about how society keeps letting things go bad until they reach a breaking point., I thoroughly enjoyed rewatching La Haine at the NYUAD Arts Center on Sept. 21, however, I don’t think it truly counts as a “rewatch” because the original soundtrack by the Asian Dub Foundation definitely added a new side to the film. The music really elevated the key moments of the story, and it also helped enhance the timings where perhaps there would be silence and stillness to bring out restlessness at certain points in the movie.
“La Haine,” directed by Matheiu Kassovitz, is a social thriller movie and is part of the banlieue films made during the Beur movement in France as filmmakers and other artists began to bring ideas and the influence of a migrating society, racism, among other social issues into their media. The film attempts to paint a raw picture of the French working class suburban life through the lives of three complex characters born into different circumstances and with different natures but a common outlook on life: Said (an Arab), Vinc (a Jew), and Hubert (an African migrant). They seem to be frustrated by the riots, police brutality, and the grave injury of their friend Abdel which follows them through television screens throughout the film.
The film is set on a single day in their lives with bouts of adventure, their explicit sense of humor, exasperation at the events that unfold, moments of laughter when they undergo trouble and chaos just to withdraw a small amount of money, or when their angst leads to them making fools of themselves. The tension reaches its peak at some instances, for example, when Vinc pulls out and plays around with a gun he stole from a police officer in a riot, which he aims to use for vengeance if Abdel ends up passing away (which, unfortunately, he does). However, this tension paves the irony that the end brings, as Vinc himself is shot by a sadistic policeman unexpectedly, and Hubert (who disapproved of Vinc acting immaturely with the gun) is seen aiming the very same gun at the policeman who aims one back at him. Said’s scared and bitter face and a gunshot close the final scene. One can almost use the last scene as a metaphor for how the xenophobic society at the time treated the people who were living in the suburbs/banlieue, most of whom were working class people who had migrated to France for opportunity or escape and were attempting to integrate into the vastly changing French post-migrant society.
The music played by Asian Dub Foundation, however, adds new light to the film’s classic plot. Their enthusiasm in playing whilst letting the film stay center-stage from the very start made the movie feel more tense and fast-paced. They are known for playing elements of punk rock, electronic music, Asian underground and Jungle, to create a unique sound that addresses political and social issues, and La Haine seems (in my opinion) to be a really good example where the power the movie held was enhanced from having instrumental music alongside it. Because the movie was playing in the background (and hence the stage itself was dim lighted), the artists were not as visible, yet their presence was felt through the incredibly powerful rhythm.
The film was beautiful to witness, despite the lack of morals on the side of the policemen and the boys, as it highlighted how all of the trio were attempting to find themselves. One can definitely see character development, especially for Vinc, as when he roams with some other friends and sees them shoot, the close up shots show his fear of using one himself. It shows that though he may cause violence using rocks, he would not bring himself to actually murder a person, bringing some sympathy to his character despite his many flaws. The policemen seemed to be different depending on where they were situated, with some having genuine ill-intent toward people who were not ethnically French, even if they may have lived there for multiple generations .The tension and fighting, often just due to protest, portrayed desperation, for order and justice, on both ends, while neither one listened to the other.
Although there is much more to talk about in the film, I did want to briefly mention some criticism about how Kassovitz excluded female characters from his film, even though female-led demonstrations were not uncommon at the time. There are also multiple articles that discuss the diversity of the group and perhaps that it “romanticize[s] racial and ethnic otherness” and that it may not accurately define relationships between different ethnicities living in the suburbs. However, the overarching point the film tries to make seems to have been achieved as this film has played a role not only in fueling discussion in the larger political sphere and in bringing a thought-provoking picture of Parisian banlieue, but has also created a timeless cinematic artwork, used to teach modern filmmaking.
The original live soundtrack changed the atmosphere of the film completely. La Haine originally has almost no score, which highlights the tension and paces the action differently. The Asian Dub Foundation’s soundtrack adds a dynamism to the film that makes the viewer reflect more on the emotional state of the characters than the events happening around them. Perhaps this was also the intention of the musicians, since they have dedicated their entire career to fighting social injustice and sharing the experiences and emotions of marginalized peoples through their music. This surprising collaboration of sorts was definitely a sight to behold and a performance to experience only live.
Iman Lalani is Deputy Columns Editor. Email them at
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