FOUR AND A HALF STARS Heavy handed authority and an accidental shooting kicks off a riot in a Parisian housing project.
Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti
DRAMA FRENCH LANGUAGE #LESMIS
Taking its cue from the source rather than any subsequent musical version of Victor Hugo’s acclaimed novel, this re-imagining of peril in Paris is as exhilarating as it is nerve wracking. Director Ladj Ly brings the story right up to date and into the crime ridden housing projects of the French capital. Visceral is only the beginning.
The story starts in summer when a new cop makes three on patrol. He’s dubbed ‘Greaser’ by the rule-bending officer in charge, a man who tries to keep a lid on roiling frustration in his patch. Heavy handed techniques don’t ingratiate him to those living in the neighborhoods, nor to Greaser, an experienced cop more inclined to play by the book.
It all goes to hell when a young boy steals from a traveling circus, management gets noisy, the police intervene and accidentally shoot the boy in the confusion. Before you can say ‘do you hear the people sing’, the down-trodden of this impoverished neighborhood prepare to storm the barricades.
LES MISÉRABLES is an outstanding examination of corrupted power as it applies to outliers in contemporary society, people whose numbers swell with each passing year. Waves of desperate immigrants or the weight of unjust capitalism sees to that.
Ly uses the background of Paris, seemingly inconsequential events and characters, to add weight and tension to his story, turning it from a conventional police drama into a searing commentary about corrupted authority and the abuse of human rights. Hugo’s text is made more relevant than it has been in decades.
His vigorous direction assaults the senses as he forces audiences into the middle of the storm. There’s no room for passive observation, he wants us in there to experience every punishing body blow as it falls. The result is as tantalising as it is repellent. Visceral.
Unsurprisingly, this terrific debut won a slew of awards including the Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar. Next time you watch the news and wonder about the story behind the story, think of this. It may only reveal part of the problem, but it does so in an utterly dazzling way.