LES MISERABLES (France 2019) ***** Top 10
Directed by Ladj Ly
LES MISERABLES impressed critics when it premiered at last year’s Cannes that eventually led to the film deservedly being selected as the country’s nominee for Best International Film (the new name for the Best Foreign Language Film). The film also marks the first a black director’s film has been selected for France, which is also his debut feature . I loved the film when I first saw it at TIFF and it is my pick for the Oscar Winner.
LES MISERABLES the film is so called for a number of reasons, as explained as the film progresses. The film opens on the day in Paris where France is playing the World Cup. A black kid dons the French flag while he and his friends jump the metro gates to get to the heart of the celebrations. They sing the French anthem “La Marseillaise” as patriotic as they can be. (The opening scene touched me especially, as I was myself in Paris on that very day.) But this is a different France as the camera shows more immigrants than white Gallic folk. And the film reveals a different France with a different assortment of current problems. It is an arousing beginning and director Ly keeps the momentum throughout.
What begins with the celebration of France’s World Cup eventually turns sour with the theft of a lion cub (that is the cutest and the real LION KING) from an East European Circus by an African kid. Three Paris cops, a black, a white racist and a rookie attempt to calm the racial tensions in the Muslim neighbourhood where the thief resides.
The story concentrates on the rookie, Corporal Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), a cop of provinces who moves Paris to join the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil, discovering an underworld where the tensions between the different groups mark the rhythm. The racist cop is Chris (Alexis Manenti) also known as pink pig, a nickname he is actually proud of. Chris actually believes he is doing good, and in an odd sort of a way - he is. “Le loi, c’est moi!” he proudly decalres! The segment where he harasses three teen girls at a bus stop (they are not that innocent either), is magnificently done, and shows the characters Chris is. The third, the black (Djibril Zonga) is the one, ironically who accidentally causes the riots. When the kid is flashed shot in the face, a riot on police brutality erupts.
Director Ly exhibits brilliant writing (he co-wrote the script with Giordano Gederlini) and excellent camera work while eliciting superlative performances from all his actors. His totally gripping film, a real roller coaster ride, will undoubtedly keep one on the edge of ones seat right to be very end where surprises and twists in the plot abound. And wait for the Victor Hugo quote from his novel LES MISERABLES at the film’s end to conclude the events. LES MISERABLES has a hard fight with PARASITE for the Best International Feature Oscar.