'Hate has kindled hate for centuries and yet Nicolas Sarkozy still thinks repression is the only way to prevent rebellion,' French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz wrote in his blog.
Hardly a surprising comment these days, given the French president spent the past few months playing the hard man to woo the far-right vote and secure another five years in office - except Kassovitz's damning critique of what he described as 'a puny, would-be Napoleon' came in November 2005, just as France was engulfed in a massive wave of social unrest fuelled by what was (and is) seen as the marginalisation and repression of poorer and non-white communities in the banlieues.
Ever the image-driven, media-savvy politician, Sarkozy - who was then interior minister, and already seen as a frontrunner for the presidential elections in 2007 - sent a lengthy riposte to Kassovitz, who responded in kind (the exchange is online at criterion.com/current/posts/476-la-haine-kassovitz-vs-sarkozy).
What drew Sarkozy to engage with, of all people, Kassovitz is the then 38-year-old actor-director's standing as the voice of his generation, stemming from the 1995 film he made about the institutional racism and police brutality that condemned three marginalised twentysomethings - of Jewish, Maghrebi and sub-Saharan African ancestry - to a sorry end.
Revolving around a day in the lives of Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Said (Said Taghmaoui) and Hubert (Hubert Kounde), La Haine (Hate) is a nuanced look at the complexities which shape the psyches of the three characters, each of whom reacts in their own way to the violence and injustice they see.
As French voters head to the polls today with the right-wing fear-mongering about immigration and social disorder ringing in their ears, La Haine remains essential viewing 17 years after its release. 'Does history repeat itself? Yes ... A desire for power and the egocentricity of those who think they hold the truth has always created dictators,' Kassovitz wrote in 2005. How true.
La Haine, Fri, 9.50pm, Palace IFC, May 16, 8pm, Broadway Cinematheque. Part of Le French May's Cities in Cinema programme