Les Miserables (2019)
The violently divided society of Victor Hugo’s novel persists in local Ladj Ly’s scintillating feature debut, which follows a police investigation into a riot in a Montfermeil banlieu.
Inspired by the 2005 Paris riots, Ladj Ly’s explosive feature debut won the Jury Prize at Cannes and is France’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Oscars.
France has won the World Cup and summer has arrived. The scene should be one of happiness but in tough, impoverished banlieue Montfermeil – also the backdrop of Victor Hugo’s classic historical novel – new arrival Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) immediately meets with trouble in the local anti-crime squad.
Working alongside unscrupulous colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), Stéphane struggles to maintain order between the local gangs. When an arrest turns unexpectedly violent, all three officers must reckon with the aftermath to keep the neighbourhood from spiralling out of control.
Shot on location and using many first-time actors, Les Misérables is pacy and intense, full of energy and a palpable sense of realism and foreboding, a prime example of work by the exciting new roster of French filmmakers dubbed the “double vague”: directors challenging traditional narratives of what it means to be French. Created during a time of a troubling rise in nationalism in France and the wider world, it’s an urgent depiction of police brutality and a country caught in a violent struggle between competing visions of its past, present and future.
Programme Type: Film
Strand Type: Maverick Mondays
Director: Ladj Ly
Cast: Djibril Zonga, Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti
Running Time: 105 minutes