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The book begins with a consideration of the origins and influences that have shaped Mathieu Kassovitz's development as a director, but also the cultural context within which he emerges as a filmmaker. It argues new realism, the banlieue. The book examines the American influences evident in all of Kassovitz's films to date as a director and explores the continuity and difference between his films as actor and director. The first phase of Mathieu Kassovitz's career comprises his short films and feature films up to and including
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book begins with a consideration of the origins and influences that have shaped Mathieu Kassovitz's development as a director, but also the cultural context within which he emerges as a filmmaker. It argues that his particular brand of popular cinema is entirely consistent with the tastes and consumption practices of youth audiences in France. The chapter focuses on Métisse and La Haine, which use the arena of popular culture as a space of 'constant contestation', in which the discourses and modes of representation employed by hegemony in relation to issues such as race, ethnicity, youth and exclusion are actively challenged. It examines the American influences evident in all of Kassovitz's films to date as a director and explores the continuity and difference between his films as actor and director.
This chapter explores the cultural context within which Mathieu Kassovitz emerged to direct his first three short films, concentrating in the second half on key transformations relating to youth culture that have taken place in relation to French popular culture. One of the most important of the trips to the cinema came in the mid-1970s when Kasso-vitz was about 10 and his father took him to the Paris Cinémathèque to see Duel. The young Kassovitz was immediately struck by Spielberg's directorial style - accurately described by Kolker as a proficient structuring of narrative and control of mise en scène that encourages the spectator to surrender themselves to the narrative. Kassovitz's first short film Fierrot le pou became a statement of intent from the ambitious young director. Through his cultural references and influences Kassovitz makes a conscious effort to place his films in the realm of mass popular culture.
Though Mathieu Kassovitz has never explicitly defined them as such, there are compelling reasons for identifying his first three feature films, Métisse, La Haine and Assassins as a trilogy. This chapter concerns two feature films - Metisse and La Haine - due to their unambiguous association with a popular youth-orientated audience and attempts to entertain their spectator in order to engage him or her with the social issues addressed in the film. Just as themes of racism, ethnicity and cultural identity are foregrounded in two of Kassovitz's earlier short films, Fierrot le pou and Cauchemar blanc, so they loom large in the narrative of his debut feature Métisse. Kassovitz shows that while the mass media may well be the 'symbolic battle ground' on which socio-political struggles take place, considerable inequalities exist in this struggle in relation to power and access to the means of production.
In Assassins, the violence, its affects and consequences are played out from the start and in far more explicit and controversial fashion. Consequently, whereas Kassovitz's previous two features attempted essentially to engage with their popular audience at the same time as entertaining them, Assassins's polemical approach aims to confront, enrage and disgust its spectator into responding to the social issues of violence and youth alienation played out on screen. With its relatively large budget, high-profile release at the Cannes festival and casting of Serrault in the starring role, Assassins appeared to signal Kassovitz's arrival in mainstream French cinema following the cross-over success of La Haine. In Assassins, the spatially coded generational conflict within the mise en scène threatens to explode into violence in the Mexican stand-offthat takes place between Mehdi and Wagner following the death of Max.
The release of Assassins in France in 1997 was to prove a defining moment in Mathieu Kassovitz's directorial career. The film's intensely polemical stance, its more experimental approach, combined with a wholly negative worldview and graphic depiction of violence, effected, for the first time, a conscious distancing by Kassovitz from his popular audience. The degree of negative and often highly personal criticism directed at Assassins, following on from the tense and pressured conditions under which the film had been completed in time for the Cannes festival, led Kassovitz to the verge of depression and nervous exhaustion. The version of Les Rivières pourpres adapted for the screen by Kassovitz and Grangé focuses squarely on the parallel investigations of two police detectives. The policier has, moreover, always formed the natural point of interface between French and American cinema.
Though La Haine may well have emphatically announced the arrival of Mathieu Kassovitz the director to French cinema audiences, it was in fact two years earlier and as an actor that he was first officially recognised as one of French cinema's emerging young talents. By the mid-1990s, Kassovitz had been identified as an actor of considerable talent with, potentially, a significant screen career ahead of him. This chapter addresses whether or not we can think of Kassovitz in terms of stardom, that 'elusive quality', defined by Vincendeau, as the: 'amalgam of character type, performance style, looks and "aura" that allows a few actors, in Richard Dyer's words, to "crystalise and authenticate" social values and become emblematic of their time'. With the official selection at Cannes of films such as La Haine and Assassins, he announced his presence in the mid-1990s as the young rebel of French cinema.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the key concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book seeks to argue for Mathieu Kassovitz's importance in contemporary French cinema as a filmmaker whose work has engaged with key shifts in French cinema since the early 1990s, such as: new realism, the banlieue film and the 'post-look' spectacular genre film. It establishes Kassovitz as a director who consistently occupies the position of a 'popular' filmmaker, and whose films reflect the increasing prominence of youth at the heart of contemporary popular French culture. In a national cinema that has made strategic use of the auteur's cultural cachet in order to mark its difference from Hollywood, Kassovitz is seen by many to side more closely with the American 'invaders' than the defenders of French cultural exception.