Les Misérables

****

Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Les Misérables
"Ly wanted the people who have lived in these schemes to have the chance to tell their own stories, which gives Les Misérables an unerring sense of authenticity." | Photo: © SRAB Films - Rectangle Productions - Lyly films

It may have the same title as the oft-filmed Victor Hugo classic but be beware: this a slice of realist French cinema that bursts out with the same vigour, passion and realism as Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine which, in 1995, also took a look at the racial and cultural volatility in the multi-ethnic housing schemes on the outskirts of Paris.

Director Ladj Ly, who has said he was inspired by Kassovitz’s groundbreaking debut as a director, sets the film in Montfermeil, where Hugo chose to situate Les Misérables 150 years ago. The springboard for the background was the riots that took place in 2005, although it could equally well be the France of President Macron and the gilets jaunes/yellow vests.

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The narrative follows the routine patrols of an Anti-Crime Brigade whose ranks are joined by a newcomer Stephane (Damien Bonnard). The two more experienced hands Gwada (Djebril Zonga), and Chris (the film’s co-writer Alexis Manenti), have been patrolling the area for ten years - and have established links to keep the peace despite tensions running high between various groups who have carved out the territory.

Covering Stephane’s first two days on the squad, he is taken on a whirlwind tour of the notoriously deprive Le Bosquet estate ruled over by a Muslim Brotherhood and a self-styled mayor (Steve Tchentchieu). There are stand-offs and incidents leading up to a riveting final chapter.

Ly knows the working-classic suburb intimately because he grew up there amid the misery and deprivation as well as overt police violence. His film started off as a César-winning short and has been extended to a narrative that proceeds at breakneck pace.

There are several real-life moments, including the drone footage capturing an incident of police brutality - with a memory stick used as a bargaining chip.

Ly wanted the people who have lived in these schemes to have the chance to tell their own stories, which gives Les Misérables an unerring sense of authenticity. It is directed with assurance and vitality marking him out as a significant new talent.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2019
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A man joins an anti-crime brigade and rapidly discovers the tensions between the various neighbourhood groups.

Director: Ladj Ly

Writer: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Menenti

Starring: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djibril Zonga

Year: 2019

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

Cannes 2019
SSFF 2019

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