“Les Misérables” stars Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Percia, Al-Hassan Ly, Steve Tientcheu, Almany Kanoute, and Nizar Ben Fatma. Released in France on November 20, 2019, the film has a police officer attempting to prevent the spread of chaos across the commune.
The film featured the directorial debut of Ladj Ly, and it is based on the 2017 short film of the same name by Ly. In times like this, when there’s nothing new for me to review this week, I go with the alternative plan, which is to play catch-up with the older films that I missed, whether they’re from last year or the years before that. There were plenty of films for me to choose from, even the ones that didn’t make their way to my closest theater. After spending countless minutes of searching, I managed to find a film that was able to capture my attention. The best part of my selection is that it’s an international film from Amazon Prime. This is one of the films that were nominated in the “Best International Feature Film” category at the 2019 Oscars. It is also one of the films that lost that award to Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”. On the plus side, it won the Jury Prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, so I guess that counts as a victory. The first time I heard about this film was from its trailer that appeared in front of “Honey Boy” back in December. From what I saw, it looked pretty intense, which might be the reason why my cinema didn’t get it during its theatrical run. Either that or it wasn’t popular enough to expand into more theaters. When I saw that it was available to watch on Amazon Prime, I decided to give it a shot and see why it got so much praise. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep this review spoiler-free for people who haven’t seen it yet.
Set after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the story follows Stéphane Ruiz (Bonnard), a police officer who moved to Paris and joined an anti-crime team that consists of squad leader Chris (Manenti) and Brigadier Gwada (Zonga). When they received word that a lion cub was stolen from the circus, the squadron works double time to retrieve the cub and bring the thief to justice. What seemed like an ordinary mission for them turns out to be a series of events that could lead to a much larger crisis. There are plenty of uncomfortable stuff that this film covered, most notably police violence and abuses against the lower-class population, including teens from the African or Arabic cultures. So if you’re not a fan of films that deal with these types of themes, “Les Misérables” may not be your best option for movie night. However, if you’re someone who likes to support international filmmaking, this film should suit you well. While I don’t think it’s the best international film I’ve seen so far, it’s still something that’s worth looking at if you’re an Amazon Prime member. One of the reasons why is the film’s combination of thrilling drama and provocative themes. Under the direction of Ladj Ly, the film offered a clear balance of uncomfortableness and thrills that fuels the nerves as well as the mind. It’s not too disturbing by any means, but it doesn’t refrain itself from showcasing the harsh reality of the situation either. It had the right amount of unsettledness and intrigue to provide some entertainment and maybe spark up a conversation or two. The film does take a while to get going during the first act and the appeal of the characters can be a bit troublesome, especially Chris, but once they start looking for that lion cub, the rest is nothing but smooth sailing. In addition to taking advantage of its cast, especially Damien Bonnard as Ruiz, the film also did a nice job with painting the characters as actual people without treating them as just good guys or bad guys. I was entirely interested in the character of Ruiz because of his own beliefs as a police officer compared to the beliefs of the other members. Ruiz believes that they can handle situations without being aggressive while Chris thinks that being aggressive towards the troublemakers is necessary to keep them in line. It’s the different perspectives from these characters that drive the film as a whole, which I thought was nicely handled. Another thing I would like to mention is the film’s third act. There are plenty of things that I enjoyed from that sequence alone, such as Ly’s direction and the intensity surrounding it, but there’s also that one thing that left me feeling conflicted, and that’s the ending. I can understand why they had to end the film like that, but I also don’t like to be left hanging. Thankfully, it didn’t affect my feelings towards its intense finale.
Overall, “Les Misérables” is best described as a well-acted and compelling depiction of police brutality rather than another adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. Aside from the film’s slow first act and my conflicted feelings towards its ending, it’s a well-deserved debut from French filmmaker Ladj Ly thanks to some solid performances from the cast and his respectable sense of direction. It’s not as fantastic as the other international film “Parasite”, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of international filmmaking.