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Three decades later, the French movie 'La Haine' is being turned into a musical

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The French movie "La Haine" was a sensation when it came out 30 years ago. It was a groundbreaking story of Paris' troubled suburban housing projects. Three decades later, it is being turned into a musical. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley tells us more.

(SOUNDBITE OF RHYTHMIC STOMPING)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Dozens of dancers, male and female, Black, white and brown, warm up in a studio in the west of Paris. They've made the first cut for the musical adaptation of "La Haine" - "Hatred" in English. Farid Benlagha is the show's producer.

FARID BENLAGHA: We had more than 1,000 for the first casting. Now, for the callback, we have 45.

BEARDSLEY: Only 15 of these dancers will make the cast. Benlagha says, despite their youth, they all know the film.

BENLAGHA: Today, we have also the new generation of artists - very fan of this film. It's an iconic film. It's an iconic movie. So we have a big brand to do it now on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LA HAINE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "La Haine" traces a day in the life of three young French guys - one is Black, one an Arab and one a Jew - after their friend is killed by police in the housing projects where they live. Director Mathieu Kassovitz was 27 when he made the film.

MATHIEU KASSOVITZ: The movie is a political movie. It's an activist movie that I did 30 years ago about police brutality. And we thought that, you know, we might see the end of it at some point.

BEARDSLEY: But the story remains relevant. Only last summer, a young man of North African descent was killed by police at a traffic stop in the Paris suburbs. It set off riots across France. Filmmaker Kassovitz says what has changed is the creative voice of the projects has gone mainstream.

KASSSOVITZ: You know, it's not like 30 years ago, where none of these kids had an idea, you know, how to succeed in life. People are coming to Paris to express what they created in their own environment. The hood, as you can call it, is very creative.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LA HAINE")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing in non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: In the movie, a young DJ blasts his mix from the open windows of his top-floor apartment. That DJ, named Cut Killer, is back to help compose for the musical, and Kassovitz is back, too, directing the show.

KASSSOVITZ: I thought it was a great idea 'cause the way I conceived the movie 30 years ago - it's like a hip-hop movie, so every scene is like a little song, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: The dancers are split into several groups and must choreograph a dance scene. It's a test, says producer Benlagha.

BENLAGHA: To see how they can think, they can imagine, they can interpret really quickly.

BEARDSLEY: It's not an easy exercise, says 28-year-old dancer and rapper Marcus Dossavi, who dreams of getting a part.

MARCUS DOSSAVI: Everyone has an ego, of course. And the thing is, you need to manage to work together, to blend in. But if you have something to say, you need to say it at the same time.

EMILIE CAPEL: There is hip-hop dancers. There is breakdancers. There is krump (ph) - it's, like, a new urban dance. There is also electro dancer.

BEARDSLEY: Emilie Capel is one of the show's choreographers.

CAPEL: They're going to be more than dancers in the show. They will be interpretes.

BEARDSLEY: Interprete - interpreting each character through dance - like actor and dancer Camila Halima-Filali, who's among the finalists.

CAMILA HALIMA-FILALI: (Through interpreter) This performance gives a great chance for us artists, who have often been bruised by life, to speak about things through dance. There are a lot of people who've been forgotten in the world and who are trying to find their words and their place. We are their voice.

BEARDSLEY: Kassovitz says turning his film into a musical made sense.

KASSSOVITZ: We're still expressing the same rage and the same hate that we expressed in the first movie, you know? It's just a different way of doing it, but we still have the same strength.

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: "La Haine," the musical, opens in Paris this October.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF REFUGEE CAMP ALL STARS SONG, "THE SWEETEST THING (FEAT. LAURYN HILL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.