Timing is everything and as we sit in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake French director/screenwriter Ladj Ly brings us a less than subtle reminder that the fragile relationship black youth have with police is not confined to the USA. Les Misérables takes inspiration from the 2005 Paris riots, and the director’s short film of the same name. In Ladj Ly’s directorial debut he gives a birds eye view of the Montfermeil neighbourhood residents relationship with the police force. If you recall Montfermeil was where the Inn ran by Victor Hugo in the 1862 famed novel Les Misérables was, yes that one.
The action takes place over two days following three paramilitary police officers (‘gendarmes’) on patrol. New officer Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) joins the Anti-Crime squad and colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga) and is quickly embroiled in the highly volatile tensions between the squad and local gangs.
The extremely charged Chris pulls them into trouble when a lion cub is stolen from the circus by one of the local kids. When the arrest goes wrong the child is fire-balled by the police. The arrest is filmed and in order to prevent the threat of violence and protest the three officers try and contain the situation by hunting down the boy who filmed them, leading them into rival gang territory. and possible warfare.
In his mission to provide an alternative to “traditional” French cinema Ladj Ly lies out this provocative film that gives us a glimpse of everyday life in a Parisian suburb. During the 2005 Paris riots two teenagers died, in June 2020 French police went on strike to protest against the claim that there is racism in their ranks, despite the country’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, saying “officers suspected of racist acts or language will be systematically suspended and the use of body cameras will be strengthened”.
In 2019 Ladj Ly won a Jury Prize in Cannes Film Festival forLes Misérables and the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Directed by Ladj Ly Written by Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti. Starring Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga Runtime: 1h 44mins
LES MISÉRABLES is released in UK & Irish cinemas from 4 September. Visit miserables.film for more information