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Les Misérables (2019) - Film Review

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Published August 17th 2020
The bleak realities of a suburb simmering with urgent anger
Les Misérables 2019 film review, cinema, movie buffs, movie review, performing arts, actors, actresses, underworld, gangs, ladj ly, damien bonnard, alexis maneti, djebril zonga, night life, date night, entertainment, crime, drama, thriller, parisian suburb
Images © Srab Films

Stéphane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard) is the new cop in town. He teams up with his new colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwanda (Djebril Zonga) from the Anti-Crime Brigade in the Paris suburbs of Montfermeil. Being introduced to the area they patrol is an eye-opener as he quickly discovers tensions between neighbourhood gangs and the cops; his partners. Ruiz is taken aback by the corruption of the two officers he's assigned to shadow, as he observes the complex power structure of the streets.

The case of a stolen lion cub escalates for the trio during the course of an arrest. Their encounter is captured by a drone that threatens to expose the way things were mishandled and they need that evidence destroyed.

This film will be in cinemas nationally 27 Aug 2020
Victoria to follow post-lockdown

Montfermeil is where Victor Hugo set his famed novel Les Misérables, but if you think this new film Les Misérables is another adaptation of the novel, you would be far from the truth. This is a modern-day cop thriller and France's entry to the Oscars. The closest it comes to Hugo's novel lies in the title; the miserables, the wretched poor - about the neighbourhood's impoverished residents.

Inspired by the riots of 2005, César nominee and Kourtrajmé (a collective of artists) collective member Ladj Ly the Director in his first fiction feature, explores contemporary Montfermeil. More than 150 years later, the similarities between today's angry youth and Gavroche (a fictional character in the novel - a street urchin) are only too clear.

The opening of the film is upbeat as France has just won the World Cup and the streets are flooded with people of all colours, background and ethnicity. This is about the only time in the film where you'll see unity under a common pride for France. From there it moves to a dreary working-class suburb lined with dingy high-rise housing projects, police violence, ethnic clashes and very little opportunity to rise above it for all. It's a matter of survival, even for the cops. It's a lot more complicated with a need for compromises, arrangements and little deals. This is not the Paris that the tourists or audiences are used to seeing.

Ladj Ly's film looks at the daily misery shared by everyone in Montfermeil with scenes taken directly from Ly's own life. Raised in Montfermeil, it's where he still lives today. Everything in the film is based on actual events, including the arrival of a new cop in the neighbourhood, the drone, the stolen lion and the gypsies. The complexity of the area and its hierarchy of different groups makes it difficult to make a quick and definitive judgement on anyone, and that's the way the story is told. In a suburb at boiling point, everyone still has to try and live together to avoid everything spinning out of control. This film doesn't judge individuals but implicitly denounces a system in which everyone ends up being a victim, residents and cops alike.

Bonnard as Ruiz is the better-known actor of the cast made up of actor and model Zonga (Gwada) and Alexis Manenti (Chris) who doesn't play an easy role as the nasty racist cop. Other actors of note in the film are Steve Tientcheu (found through casting) who plays the Mayor, Almamy Kanouté as Salah the kebab shop owner, and Issa (Issa Perica) the young boy who stole the lion cub; with an unexpected appearance from Jeanne Balibar (French actress and singer), unrecognisable as the police chief aka La Commissaire. Many others were found on the streets by Ly.

One of the best films of substance I've seen in a long time, it keeps you on the edge of your seat as it pulses with tension to the very end! The cinematography is excellent in capturing the backdrop of this volatile film which is wonderfully edited. Young Issa is commendable in his role as the young teen always getting into trouble. It's his portrayal that makes a mark on the film that shadows humanity; from innocence and a carefree smile to a scowl wreaking with malevolence in an environment of deep-rooted oppression and racism that hardens and changes you. This is a film you need to see.

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Why? Les Misérables (2019) - film review
When: In Cinemas Nationally 27 Aug 2020 - Victoria to follow post-lockdown
Where: Australia
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