This week’s HIC film was due to have been LES MISÉRABLES, a French crime drama not based on the Victor Hugo novel, but set in the Paris suburb in which Hugo wrote it. It’s the debut feature of Ladj Ly, who lives in a deprived part of the French capital and wrote the screenplay based on events he witnessed in 2008. It tells the story of three police officers assigned to patrol high-rise blocks, where a young teenager is violently arrested. Its portrayal of police violence against people of colour is dishearteningly, tragically, as relevant in modern France as in many other parts of the world, and the film was a French box office hit and represented the French Academy at the 2019 Oscars.
At present it’s not available in the UK but we hope to be able to include it in a future season. In the meantime, we’re looking at two other fantastic examples of banlieues cinema. First up, Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN from 2015.
Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) is a Tamil freedom fighter, a Tiger. In Sri Lanka, the Civil War is reaching its end, and defeat is near. Dheepan decides to flee, taking with him two strangers – a woman and a little girl – hoping that they will make it easier for him to claim asylum in Europe. Arriving in Paris, the ‘family’ moves from one temporary home to another until Dheepan finds work as the caretaker of a run-down housing block in the suburbs. He works to build a new life and a real home for his ‘wife’ and his ‘daughter’, but the daily violence he confronts quickly reopens his war wounds, and Dheepan is forced to reconnect with his warrior’s instincts to protect the people he hopes will become his true family.
DHEEPAN was welcomed by critics as “a radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head” (The Independent). It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for nine Césars (French Academy Awards). We screened the film at Hull Truck in June 2016, but if you missed it then or want to appreciate it again, you can find it on a wide range of services including BFIPlayer, Apple TV and YouTube.
Of course, we can’t talk about banlieue cinema without recommending the granddaddy of the genre, Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 masterpiece LA HAINE.
The film follows three young men and their time spent in the French suburban banlieue over a span of twenty-four hours. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), a Jew, Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), an Arab, and Hubert (Hubert Koundé), a black boxer, have grown up in these French suburbs where high levels of diversity coupled with a racist and oppressive police force have raised tensions to a critical breaking point. During riots that took place the night before, a police officer lost his handgun in the chaos, and Vinz has found it. Now, with a newfound means to gain the respect he deserves, Vinz vows to kill a cop if his friend Abdel, beaten in police custody, dies in the hospital.
Critics describe LA HAINE as “an extremely intelligent take on the mutual mistrust, contempt and hatred between the police and France’s disenfranchised youth” (Variety) and “one of the most blisteringly effective pieces of urban cinema ever made” (The Times). It won three Césars, including Best Film, with eight further nominations, and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, where Kassovitz won the Best Director prize.
You can find this must-watch classic online at the Microsoft Store, Rakuten and Sky Store, or on DVD and Bluray at the usual retailers.