Actor Marc Duret, who played one of the pivotal characters in the French cult movie, reflects on the film and the current state of society, and shares what he is up to these days
It is one of most iconic scene in French movie history: “This is the story of a society on its way down. And as it falls, it keeps telling itself, ‘so far so good…so far so good’…” These ominous lines, spoken in the off as an overwrought inspector Notre Dame faces off with Hubert, the black kid from the dirt-poor Parisian suburbs angered by the killing of his friend at the cop’s hands that he had just witnessed, each holding a gun to the other’s head. The camera catches the terrified eyes of Saïd who looks on in horror as a gunshot rings out. “What’s important is not the fall…”, the voice continues, “…it’s the landing.” Who of the two pulled the trigger first, we will never know. The end of this all too realistic tragic human story is left up to imagination and to debate.
Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz in 1995, La Haine (“Hate”) is one of the top French cinematic references the world over, instantly recognisable by these few lines and the iconic images associated with them. It follows a day in the lives of three youths from immigrant families living in the underprivileged Parisian “housing projects” in the suburbs. Vinz (played by Vincent Cassel) from a Jewish background is unstable, borderline schizophrenic. Saïd the Maghrebinian (Saïd Taghmaoui) is the jokester among them but hardly the sharpest tool in the shed, and Hubert (Hubert Koundé) is an Afro-French boxer who despite dabbling in drugs is the most mature among them. They become unlikely friends in an environment where cultures collide and cohabitation is uneasy. They are not big-time criminals but certainly up to no good.
Inspector Notre Dame represents the other side of the law. Nervous and cynical, he stands for cops that all too easily are drunk with their perceived power which, however, often masks deep-rooted fears and doubts.
Notre-Dame is perfectly inhabited by Nice-born actor Marc Duret, who has been a perennial and intrinsic part of the French and international film and theatre landscape for over thirty years.. He started his career in the late 1980s, soon starring in all three French movies that have made it to the celluloid Olymp – Le Grand Bleu, Nikita, and La Haine. Other than on the big screen, he has played in international TV productions – the conniving Cardinal Briconnet in Tom Fontana’s Borgia, or the devious French minister Joseph Duverney in Outlander – and he occasionally guests on British and American TV. He is frequently Fabrice Hourlier’s go-to actor for roles in docu-fiction series such as Napoleon, and he still plays and directs theatre. And last but not least he also often serves on the Emmy Awards jury in New York.
To commemorate the 25 year anniversary of La Haine’s première at the Cannes Film Festival on May 27, 1995, Marc Duret took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about the cult movie and his current projects.
25 years after La Haine was made, have things changed in those estates?
Nothing has changed, at least not for the better. The same people who lived in housing projects then – almost all of them immigrants, as also portrayed in the movie – still live there, maybe not they themselves, but the same social class, the next generation. Conditions have not improved, it’s hard to find your way out, and the same kind of rage is still there among the youth. If anything, today’s world, overall, is even colder and more reptilian.
Tell us about Inspector Notre-Dame, and his opponent Hubert
Notre-Dame seems like a nefarious type but you wonder if he isn’t a fallen angel who once upon a time had tried to do the right thing, who once may have believed he could make a difference and then something happened that made him so cynical. Since the film is rife with symbolisms, I have also always been intrigued by his name, by the way… was that possibly a reference to Nostradamus, the French seer?
At the time, when we considered a sequel, we also thought about Notre-Dame’s future and what would have become of him, assuming he was the one who pulled the trigger first and lived. I always see him as someone who would have ended up either in a mental institution, or in an organization or profession where this kind of personality thrives, like politics.
I have always liked Hubert’s character in the film. He has an almost spiritual quality to him, and he is closer to desperation than to malice.
Could this movie be made today and would it still be pertinent?
La Haine was an immensely important story of social criticism back in 1995 when it was made, and it has lost nothing whatsoever of its relevance. In fact, today it would be more pertinent than ever, but on a different level, bringing certain issues into even sharper focus. A lot of people feel fear and anxiety in their daily lives. And that is exactly the connection to the film.
Many call it a road movie. I rather see it as a street movie, a crusade that “something has to happen”. It’s also a movie of a different era that has now gone for good: 25 years ago, there was no technology, no video surveillance all over. So if we made this film today, or a sequel, it would be a very different story and narrative. I sometimes wonder how people of my age group would react to it if came out today. Would they still feel outrage at social injustice like they did when they were younger, or would they be indifferent to it? I also ask myself, “What can I do to change that?”
Will there be a 25 year commemoration in honour of La Haine?
No, that’s not something that’s done in France. In other countries yes, but in France you just work together for the duration of a shoot, and that’s it, really. It’s also interesting to see that the British and American press has picked up and commented on La Haine on its anniversary while the French media have been silent.
You have had quite a busy career since then, playing and directing in Europe and the US. Tell us about your current projects
I do indeed have quite a few things on the burners. A play that I directed in Paris last year (“Enracinés”) and that did very well was prolonged in February. Then, just before lockdown, I was playing in a movie which was being shot in the Nice region, called Envol, but that has of course been postponed until summer when it’s deemed safe to resume the shoot. So I am really looking forward to being down on the Coast again soon. As a native Niçois, I am always happy to come back “home”.
During these past two months in isolation I have worked a lot on my current bilingual (English-French) play Henry IV. That play, even though set in the times of Catherine de Médicis, is quite pertinent today. It reflects on strategies gone wrong, on scheming that backfires, and on unlikely alliances – not so different from the world we live in today.
And there is another project that I have in mind: to create a multilingual acting school or hub in Nice for French, English, and Italian speakers, the three languages I also work in. Of course, nowadays we theatre-makers have to rethink our approach to stage play, both for the safety of the audience and that of actors who work in close proximity to each other, but that challenge also opens the doors for new creative forms of expression, including an outreach across languages and cultures.
So, I can’t wait for things to get rolling again because the world needs film and theatre more than ever in these times, not just for entertainment but also as a very necessary mirror held up to society and to those in power…
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mathieu Kassovitz’s bold and groundbreaking La Haine, we’ll be releasing a new 4K restoration in cinemas across the UK & Ireland from 29 May, with a Blu-ray to follow later this year. pic.twitter.com/OMs8Xc7aNE
— BFI (at 🏠) (@BFI) March 4, 2020
Lead image © Louis-Paul Fallot; all other photos courtesy Marc Duret