Classics, you can’t live without them. Les Misérables is a perfect example, a universal and timeless tale that can be told in many different ways. Ladj Ly’s first personal view of Victor Hugo’s epic has been a short movie first back in 2017. In 2019 the short has been enlarged to a full-length feature in which history merges with reality.
2018 football world championship final. The French national team won the cup the day after the anniversary of 1789 revolution. Montfermeil is one of Parisian banlieus, the hood districts where immigrants and minorities are confined. Mathieu Kassovitz let the world discovered banlieus with his gangsta and supercool La haine.
Banlieus have been depicted in more realistic ways during the years such as Kechiche’s L’esquive. The Egyptian director was inspired by Marivaux, Montfermeil is more than a literary inspiration, it actually is one of the main settings of Hugo’s feulleiton. It’s evidently doomed to be a scenario for the abused underdogs of society.
The main storyline of Les Misérables is based on actual events that were personally depicted by Ly in 2017 short movie. It’s almost an autobiographical story and most of all an outstanding and powerful testimony.
But putting aside the undoubtful political importance, Les Misérables is even more surprising for its cinematic high standard. It’s an intense thriller much inspired by French Polar legacy and American hard boiled cops story. It’s Training Day joining western and horror as well, especially in the very tense final sequence. Ly shows a strong classic and cinephile background, picking up inspiration from Melville, Leone, Friedkin and most of all John Carpenter’s Precint 13th and Escape from New York.
Les miserable is an excellent debut
Ladj Ly is very aware of what making movies means and he’s very good with actors. The three cops are perfectly blended, Damien Bonnard and Alexis Manenti are both expert players and they worked together in terrific F.J. Ossang’s 9 Doigts. Bonnard also had a role in Dunkirk and Manenti has been seen in Netflix original series The Eddie). Djebril Zonga takes up the role he already played in the short version infusing a touching and truthful pain.
Les Misérables is entertaining, commentary and breathtaking and most important it is cinema at its highest level.