The black-and-white urban drama La Haine (English translation, "Hate") was submitted for classification in October 1995. Its history at the BBFC illustrates how examiners' contrasting interpretations of a film could sometimes lead them to different decisions.
By the time it reached the Board, La Haine had been well-received in its native France, where writer/director, Mathieu Kassovitz, had been named Best Director at that year's Cannes Film Festival. It proved to be of political significance too: both the French President and Prime Minister contacted the director in the weeks following release, the latter to arrange a screening for government officials.
The story follows a day in the life of three young men, each from immigrant families living in the Parisian cités (large modernist public housing complexes that encircle the city centre). In the aftermath of a riot, Vincent Cassel's Vinz has discovered a handgun. As the friends negotiate the perils of an ordinary day, this gun determines the course of their lives, for good or ill.
Tartan, the film's distributor, submitted a teaser trailer to the Board in early October. It contained moderate gun threat and "a sense of menace", and was given a 12 age rating (the current 12A category not being introduced until 2002). A second, still shorter, trailer was also rated 12, with the same issues noted.
On the 16th of the month, anticipating an 18 certificate, Tartan submitted the film itself. Both of the examiners who viewed La Haine, felt that it straddled the border between 15 and 18. One examiner proposed a 15, while the other felt 18 the more appropriate classification. The two set out their arguments in their reports, and the final decision fell to the Board's Director, James Ferman.
The examiners agreed that the key classification issues were drugs and violence. Strong language alone (there were several uses of 'f**k' and 'motherf**ker' in the original subtitles) meant that no category below 15 was achievable. Joint-smoking and implied drug-dealing by the protagonists, together with a scene in which they are offered lines of cocaine, meant that it was possible to argue a normalisation of drug misuse. A bloody shooting and a sadistic interrogation were also open to an 18 interpretation under BBFC policy of the time.
Where the examiners differed was in their reading of the message an audience would take away from the film. One argued a 15 rating, reasoning that it offered a valuable cautionary note which mitigated the drugs and violence:
the 'message' of the film is quite simply that 'hate breeds hate'.
The other tended towards an 18 rating, and argued that the issues were aggravated by a potentially destructive overtone:
the message is 'make people afraid of you, then they will respect you'.
Ferman's interpretation of the film is not recorded but his casting vote was for 15, the category at which it has since remained. Across the intervening years, many believe the film's impact is undiminished: it is thought to be as relevant today as in the year of its first release.
In 1999, four years after the film's release, the BBFC introduced the Guidelines system, based on regular public consultation. This made the classification process less subjective, and allowed examiners to reach a decision that was based less on their personal analysis of a film, and more on a set of standards constructed in collaboration with audiences themselves. These Guidelines were first applied to La Haine in 2004 and the 15 rating was maintained.