LES MISÉRABLES – A Review by Cynthia Flores
This is the feature film debut for director Ladj Ly and I can’t wait to see what he does next. He first did a short (about this story) in 2017 called The Pitiful, using much of the same cast. Seeing a complex full-length feature coming from that short will be inspiring to new filmmakers everywhere.
This film is gritty, harsh, and a hell of a ride at the end. Les Miserables was inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris. It follows Stephane (Damien Bonnard), a recent transplant to the dirt-poor suburb of Montfermeil, as he joins the local anti-crime squad. Working alongside his crooked colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zongga), Stephane struggles to maintain his humanity and stand up for what is right. The team navigates the streets of this ghetto and tries to keep the peace amidst the mounting tensions between local gangs while children play in the streets. When an arrest turns unexpectedly violent and is captured on video by a boy playing with his drone, the three officers must reckon with the aftermath and keep the neighborhood from spiraling out of control.
I loved the gritty realism that this film brings to the screen. Most of that is because it was shot on location in the hood that the story takes place. The director Ladj Ly was asked why he decided to shoot there. “The neighborhood I filmed in has been all but abandoned by the local government agencies. It’s probably one of France’s worst ghettos and it’s my home where I grew up. It’s also an area rich with many communities where over thirty nationalities co-exist. It’s where the 2005 riots originated which triggered a great wave of violence in France’s projects. But, in spite of its poverty, the area has great energy and wonderful young people. It’s all of these things at once. And it is where the character of Gavroche lives in Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’. Shooting there was self-evident for me; I have a very strong connection to my neighborhood.”
Les Miserables is a must-see film. It has garnered several accolades and nominations during this awards season and for a good reason. It goes way beyond good cop versus bad cop, then cops against gangs. The brilliance of this film is that it goes past the broad strokes most people paint the players of impoverished areas with. This is an exciting political film in the sense that it doesn’t judge individuals but instead, denounces a system in which everyone ends up being a victim, residents and cops alike. This story is set in France but unfortunately can be told anywhere in the world where poverty is crushing neighborhoods. Like the director is quoted as saying, “Life in the projects is light-years away from what the media shows you. How could politicians ever be able to solve our problems when they don’t actually know us or how we live?”
I give Les Miserables an A rating. It’s a timely film that you’ll talk about and debate it’s ending long after the credits have rolled.
Directed by: Ladj Ly
Written by: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti
Selig Rating A
Running Time: 1hr 42min
Limited Release: January 17th Angelika Film Center & Cafe – Dallas & Plano
Starring: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djibril Zonga, Issa Perica, Almamy Kanoute
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.