Kassovitz was born in Paris, the son of Chantal Rémy, a film editor, and Peter Kassovitz, a director and writer. He started as a jobbing actor in several TV series and short films, he is probably most famous outside France for his role as Nino Quincampoix in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film Amélie (2001). Among many other credits, he also had small roles in La Haine (1995), The Fifth Element (1997), Birthday Girl (2001), and Amen (2003). Kassovitz is also recognizable for playing a conflicted Belgian explosives expert in Steven Spielberg’s controversial 2005 film Munich. He was more recently seen in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire (2011). He explained several times he accepted acting parts only for the experience of knowing what it is to act, to be able to be a better director of actors afterward, to meet directors he admires and learn from them by working with them, and to take part in great projects.
Kassovitz was married to French ex-actress Julie Mauduech, whom he directed and acted alongside with in his 1993 feature film debut Métisse (Café au lait) and who made a brief appearance in La Haine (during the scene in the Parisian art gallery).
As a filmmaker, Kassovitz has made several artistic and commercial successes. He wrote and directed La Haine (Hate, 1995), a hugely controversial film in France dealing with themes around class, race, violence, and police brutality. Shot in black-and-white, the drama film was written, co-edited, and directed by Kassovitz. It is about three young friends and their struggle to live in the banlieues (low income, highly populated area on the outskirts of the city) of Paris. The title derives from a line spoken by one of them, Hubert: “La haine attire la haine!”, “hatred breeds hatred.”
The majority of the filming was done in the Parisian suburb of Chanteloup-les-Vignes. Real footage was used for this film, taken from 1986–96; riots still took place during the time of filming. To actually film in the projects, Kassovitz, the production team and the actors, moved there for three months prior to the shooting as well as during actual filming. Some of the actors were not professional. Money was an issue in producing the film. Kassovitz used simple special effects, filmed in black and white and used a handheld camera due to not having a big budget. This gives the film a documentary feel and included many situations that were based on real events.
The film won the César Award for Best Film and netted Kassovitz the Best Director prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. When he was compared to Spike Lee because the film was being compared to Lee’s Do the Right Thing, he noted the irony:
He later directed Assassin(s) (1997), which I haven’t seen, followed by Les Rivières Pourpres English: the Crimson Rivers (2000), a police/serial killer thriller starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel, another massive commercial success in France, and the awful Gothika (2003), a fantasy thriller (considered by some to be a commercial failure, although it grossed over twice its roughly $40 million budget), with Halle Berry and Penélope Cruz that he did to earn the money he needed to develop far more personal projects.
Kassovitz established the film production firm MNP Entreprise in 2000 “to develop and produce feature films by Kassovitz and to represent him as a director and actor.” MNP Entreprise is responsible for the co-productions of a number of films including Avida (2006) in which Kassovitz acts and Babylon A.D. which he directed. Kassovitz purchased the film rights for the novel Johnny Mad Dog by Congolese writer Emmanuel Dongala. The film was also co-produced by MNP Entreprise, and directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire; it premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival where it was screened within the Un Certain Regard section.
Through MNP Entreprise’s, Kassovitz both starred in and directed Rebellion, a war film based on a true story of French commandos who clashed with tribes in New Caledonia, the Melanesian territory of France. Always interesting, I’ll watch whatever he makes, which means I should try to get a copy of Assassin(s) asap!