The neighborhood of ‘La Haine’ that stopped being ‘Hate’

A six-meter Baudelaire watches the main artery of the La Noé neighborhood with his stern gaze. It is flanked by murals of the same size by four other French poets, one for each property in the main square of this neighborhood of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, a town of 10,000 inhabitants 50 kilometers from Paris. The buildings turn their backs on the square and close it in on itself, like an amphitheater. This is how the architect Émile Aillaud designed it, seeking to integrate the ideal of the town into the city: making squares, alleys, quiet corners hidden from view … A meeting place between neighbors but a mousetrap for the police.

Chanteloup-les-Vignes was a modest town of just over 2,000 inhabitants when La Noé was inaugurated in 1974. It was created to house the large workforce required by the Simca car factory. In just eight years, Chanteloup had 10,000 neighbors, 80% of the town, in the new buildings. The buildings, no more than six high, were colorful, with purple facades and spacious, bright floors. However, the comfort and tranquility were short-lived. The oil crisis broke out just when the first neighbors were settling in. In a decade, France went from full employment to figures close to 10% unemployment. At the dawn of the 90s, Chanteloup was close to 30%.

In 1994, when it was filmed La Haine (Hate), La Noé was a tinderbox of fights between young people that could break out over a girlie at the parties in the town next door. This violence, however, was so explosive and gratuitous that, suddenly, the daily miseries of the suburbs went from the event pages of the regional press to the front pages of newspapers such as The world Y Release. While public television compared Chanteloup to the Chicago of the mafia years, France discovered the conditions of unemployment, despair and lack of prospects that existed in those neighborhoods.

Pierre Cardo and the baseline player’s tactic

In early 1994, the producers of Hatred they began to look for the location for the film. They needed an architecture that would mirror the frustrations and despair of the three protagonists. The director, Mathieu Kassovitz, put only one condition on them: that it should not be a neighborhood depleted by drugs. Rejected by up to twenty cities, the only positive response the production company received was from the mayor of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, Pierre Cardo.

“I asked them two things: that they hire extras and security personnel from the neighborhood boys, and that the name of the town not be mentioned in the film,” Cardo recalls now. Mayor from 1983 to 2009, he wanted to show his own neighbors that his appeasement policy was effective, and that La Noé was safe. “Some in the City Council called me crazy,” he says. But the first sign that Cardo was right is that during the months of filming, thefts dropped. La Noah was entertained in the production.

“La banlieue is a territory of affection where you have to get close to your neighbors, not be afraid of them,” says Pierre Cardo, mayor of Chanteloup les Vignes from 1983 to 2009

The first title of the film was not Hatred, otherwise Copyright (Citizenship right), and it can be said that the 26 years of Pierre Cardo’s mandate have focused on ensuring that all residents of the neighborhood enjoy the French “right of citizenship”. Plans, grants, developments, projects … Cardo has it all in his head: “You have to make people get involved in their own well-being”, what he calls the “user-actors”, mediators who fill the gaps to those that the City Council cannot reach. During his tenure, for example, at a time when there were many fights in public transport, a project was developed in Chanteloup in which older boys were present on buses to avoid fights between kids. An initiative that was later implemented in its trains by SNCF, the French public railway company.

But the population pyramid of La Noé did not help calm the spirits: “In the 80s, 50% of the inhabitants of La Noé were under 18 years old, they made the law,” recalls Cardo. That is why he called in an old acquaintance of the police, Yazid Kherfi, a robber since he was fifteen years old and a legend of the suburbs for its leaks. Cardo trusted him and put him in charge of the La Noé youth center.

Young people were fascinated by his reputation and respected him for his prison record, “so I used it,” says Kherfi. From his hand, for years, it has been the only youth center in the province of Yvelines that was still open at night. “Because I wanted them to come to the center even though there were no scheduled activities, to even get bored, but to get bored together, to think about their problems together,” he says.

A girl walks next to the circus tent installed near the La Noé neighborhood, in Chanteloup-les-Vignes (France).

Teresa Suarez Zapater

For Cardo, “the suburb it is a territory of affection where you have to get close to your neighbors, not be afraid of them ”. It is his “tactic” of throwing balls from the back of the court, before going up to finish off the problems at the net: “It’s basic. If there is a group of young people who observe you and you pass by, they will draw two conclusions: either that you are afraid or that you do not like them. I go to them, shake their hands, ask them how they are, and so on. There comes a time when they have spoken to you, they have let off steam and they calm down ”.

The “Cardo tactic” contains a residue of paternalistic management and of wanting to be the fire extinguisher for all fires. “And the time came when I needed to stop,” he says, so in 2009 he left the mayor’s office “to disconnect from Chanteloup.” He confesses that his wife does not even want to go back to town because she has recorded the sound of the blades of the police helicopters flying over the streets when she suburb it burned. Those nights of urban guerrilla warfare in which Cardo left his house to calm things down without knowing if he was going to come back alive, on his motorcycle, with his eternal white scarf and his smoking pipe. “Because you can’t hit someone who smokes a pipe,” he recalls, taking the weight off the issue.

A quarter of a century later: another neighborhood, same problems

On market days, the main street of La Noé becomes pedestrianized, the neighbors do their shopping for the week, they greet each other. There is also time to get together in the more than 200 associations that Chanteloup has. In one of them, the Grains de Soleil social center, among freshly cut watermelon slices, the women of the neighborhood organize everything from food deliveries to needy families to communal barbecues in the La Noé gardens. The association’s veteran Beya’s phone rings every five minutes: now she is a neighbor who wants to donate a baby crib that she no longer uses.

Pierre Cardo, alcalde of Chanteloup-les-Vignes between 1983 and 2009

Beyond its associative fabric, another peculiarity of La Noé is that the neighborhood was not involved in the revolt of the suburbs that France experienced in 2005, and perhaps something influenced Cardo’s policy both at the municipal level and its requirements at the state level. Since 2004, the French State has invested more than 110 million euros in the urban renewal of La Noé, disposing of entire buildings, opening streets for car traffic and buying residential spaces to create parks or gardens. La Noé has gained in sports facilities, rehabilitated buildings and the neighborhood has opened up to the rest of the town, losing its character as an impregnable village of the 90s.

However, the youth of La Noé continue to set fire to the symbols of local power in the neighborhood. After several attacks with Molotov cocktails against a school, the municipal circus burned last year. According to Neusa Thomasi, founder of the company that runs the circus, the fire is a message against two women, the current mayor and herself, who are annoying: “Because we educate the girls of the neighborhood to be free, to be autonomous people. And we are an example of secularism, we receive them in the circus even if they come with a veil, but I walk around in a miniskirt ”, he says.

So far so good

In 2019 another movie, The Miserables, took up the stage and the themes of the suburbs French 25 years after Hatred, reminding viewers that the Republic continues to have a serious problem in these neighborhoods. Both share common elements such as the denunciation of police violence, the importance of the so-called “older brothers” to calm tensions … but they diverge in the representation of violence: the kids from The Miserables they have lost the innocence of the boys of Hatred.

From his knowledge of the terrain, from nights talking with young people from the suburbs, Kherfi considers that the title of Hatred it is more appropriate for what is lived in these neighborhoods today than it was a quarter of a century ago. “At that time, young people lived with anger at a future without prospects, but not with hatred. The movie back then should have been called Anger. Hate is what we see today, hate the other, the one who is not like you, which leads some to think that paradise awaits them in the mosque or in the radicalization ”, confesses Kherfi.

During the film, a phrase serves to summarize that turning point in which society is still capable of vaccinating itself from the worst: “So far everything is fine”, but it is unable to see that it is walking on the edge of a spiral of violence and does not know how the day will end. The conclusion drawn from those years by the former mayor of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, Pierre Cardo, the conclusion drawn from those years is that “avoiding the worst is up to us.”

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The neighborhood of ‘La Haine’ that stopped being ‘Hate’

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