It’s just a film…

How watching, studying and truly seeing La Haine changed my life.

You might watch a film, but are you really seeing it? Could viewing it with a deeper understanding of cinema make it more meaningful? Have you ever really studied a film and seen it differently?

I avidly watched films from a young age, and I had my opinions about them. I knew I appreciated certain genres more than others, enjoyed the work of my favourite directors and was always seeking out new examples of quality cinema. But when I inadvertently joined a film studies class in my mid 20s, my eyes were finally open to a world of knowledge and understanding, it gave me confidence and I haven’t looked back. It changed me, thanks largely to repeated viewings of a particular film.

In autumn 2001 my then employer gave me a small grant to be used for an educational course that would benefit my personal development. How very early 2000s of them. I had intended to do a screenwriting course, but when I rocked up to the first class the tutor expected us to have a finished script to be finessed, rather than a blank sheet of paper. I was in the wrong place. Running in an adjoining classroom was A Level Film Studies. The course had already started but I went to have a look. They were discussing auteurs. The tutor asked for examples, so I hesitantly put my hand up and offered a shy ‘Scorsese?’ There were murmurs of appreciation from around the room. A group of people I could discuss films with for two hours one evening a week without boring them rigid? I had found my calling.

This was an adult further education college, so the group was a fascinating mix. Everyone had a unique story to tell and brought something different to the dynamic. They were brilliant. Like me, most were studying for pleasure rather than the qualification.

In the first term we analysed a couple of films in depth. One of those films was La Haine. Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the 1995 film follows 24 hours in the lives of three young men from ‘la banlieue’ housing projects in Paris. It is a fascinating film and simply yet brilliantly made and acted. It plays out like a rollercoaster of pent up rage, threats of violence and touching moments of friendship. The film held a mirror up to French social tensions of the time and influenced a generation.

I had seen it a number of times before, it was released when I was a university student and it had resonated then. But to have the chance to deconstruct it, analyse it, contextualise it and share ideas and opinions was incredibly valuable. As I saw the film through different eyes, I really started to understand it.

With each viewing I saw something different. I was able to voice opinions with a new perspective, to challenge and sometimes question myself and others. Through learning about different film techniques and narratives, I gained confidence in my ability to talk about film. I started capturing and framing my ideas properly and I began writing. Firstly from an academic perspective as part of that course, but then I speculatively contacted a couple of websites about submitting my writing. I even had my own weekly film column for a while on a friend’s website. It was a delightful experience and I should have pursued it properly but I didn’t quite get there.

After the course finished I started to seek out other film studies opportunities. Lucky to be living in in London at the time, I attended short courses and lectures. I went to the cinema at every opportunity and kept educating myself through viewing, reading and thinking about cinema. By being able to read a film I became more confident in myself.

When I moved back north I sought out my nearest arthouse cinema and film courses. Thanks to a wonderful education unit at the National Media Museum in Bradford at the time (sadly it has since been closed) I threw myself into the wonders of film discourse yet again. Chinese cinema, Japanese cinema, documentary, individual studies of directors and genres, it was all there for the taking.

I enrolled on a lifelong learning programme the Media Museum ran in partnership with the University of Bradford, again just for the love of it. On one particular course, when we all introduced ourselves, I spotted a bloke I liked the look of. Unfortunately it took me another two months to actually pluck up the courage to speak to him. In a chance conversation before a class he mentioned he was going to a screening of La Haine later that week. Without hesitating I remarked that I was too. I wasn’t, obviously. But I made sure I was there that Thursday, just in case I bumped into him. He was there, we sat next to each other. We chatted about the film and I admitted that I’d seen it before, I just glossed over the fact I’d seen it on so many occasions I could quote lines and frame times. We swapped contact details and arranged a proper first date. We saw a film of course. This year we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.

La Haine took on a new meaning for me then. It had a new magic to it, new memories, and it continues to be one of my favourite films. It’s an amazing piece of cinema in its own right, but most importantly for me, through truly seeing and understanding that film I came to understand myself.

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