At a certain level you get the feel that this film was aiming to light a fuse under the complacent French middle classes about the angst and turmoil — generational, class-based and racially motivated — existing under their own noses, in the vast banlieux (the French equivalent of council estates, or projects) just on the edges of their largest cities. And I suppose it did have that effect, but watching it again 25 years on, it feels very polished and Hollywood, but then it’s taking something of a cue from Spike Lee and his seminal Do the Right Thing six years earlier. That much is evident in the structure of the story and in some of the technical effects (zoom shots and dollies, such as the one into Saïd Taghmaoui’s face at the start and end of the film), though obviously not in the colour palette which unlike Lee’s forcefully saturated colours is rather starkly monochrome. There’s humour too in a lot of the film, but what feels a little lacking is menace, but then again it makes sense that the film isn’t trying to make its protagonists feel like dangerous characters to spend time with — sure, Vincent Cassel’s Vinz is on edge, but like the other two he is just fronting aggression to hide a deeper malaise — and in fact, it is, as it should be, the police who are the characters you (and the protagonists) can’t feel comfortable around. I don’t know if I was looking for something with more edge, but it has aged if anything rather gracefully, and even some of the period cultural references — like confronting skinheads with a rousing ‘fvck Le Pen’ — haven’t actually changed at all (even if the specific Le Pen is different).
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Mathieu Kassovitz; Cinematographer Pierre Aim; Starring Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Saïd Taghmaoui; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Friday 18 December 2020 (and originally on VHS at home, Wellington, November 1997).