"Les Misérables" is not merely named after Victor Hugo's celebrated novel, he shares his background and splendidly achieves a mutual goal.
Directed and co-written by Ladj Ly, who was born, raised and still lives in Montfermeil, the impoverished Parisian perennial Banlieue or suburb where Hugo is part of his story, "Les Misérables" exploded on the French film scene.
Acquired by Amazon almost immediately after its Cannes debut, it won the festival jury award and became the Oscar submission of France, with Ly becoming the first honorable black French filmmaker.
The reason for all this excitement is that, like Hugo's original novel, "Les Misérables" is culturally relevant and dramatically appealing, finding a way to balance the artistic metaphor, involving the narrative and critique of a system that allows the overwhelming poverty survive and prosper.
Although this energetic and terrifyingly real movie is Ly's directorial debut, he has been making films, especially documentaries, for decades. In fact, a short film on the same subject was nominated for a Caesar a few years ago.
Apart from Ly's considerable skill, what makes "Les Misérables" such an immersive experience is the sizzling sense of authenticity that is the birthright of the film.
Working with co-writers Giordano Gederlini and Alexis Manenti and director of photography Julien Poupard, Ly proves to be an excellent orchestrator of time and space, taking us for two days around the Montfermeil Bosquets housing project, where the feeling that Things can get out of control in the blink of an eye is always present.
In a slightly inspired counterpoint, Ly chose to open "Les Misérables" on an unexpected happy note. Inspired by the 1998 World Cup, it shows neighborhood children heading to central Paris, putting themselves on the French flag and celebrating with people of all colors as the country wins. It's a note from a beautiful unit that we never got close to.
Operating in a much more conflicted manner are the three men from the local police Anti-Crime Squad, who drive around in a gray Peugeot, focused on hiding things.
New to the cast is Stephane (Damien Bonnard), who moved from another part of France and was paired with veterans Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwana (Djebril Zonga).
While Gwana is cooler and more laid back, volcanic Chris, who boasts of his nickname Pink Pig, is anything but.
A fanatic of confrontation with a provocative temperament of hair, he immediately begins to sew Stephane, nicknamed him "Greaser" because of his hairstyle. When the new guy questions his lack of politeness, Chris says, "Why don't you work as a steward in a palace?"
When Stephane is introduced at the station, we meet the sardonic commander of the area (an unexpected and unexpected Jeanne Balibar), who emphasizes the importance of group unity.
It is at the police station that we get the first glimpse of Issa (Issa Perica), a boy whose father is furious that he is a perpetual troublemaker, a characterization that turns out to be too true.
We also watched other kids from the neighborhood running in packs trying to have fun. Chief among them is Buzz (Al-Hassan Ly), a quiet guy with huge glasses whose fixation on filming everything in the neighborhood from his drone, especially the girls, becomes central to the plot.
As police circulate and veterans show the new terrain, we get a sense of how balkanized this area is, how many energy centers there are, and how little they care.
Police are of no use to Area Mayor Steve Tientcheu, whom Chris uses as "our own Obama," but since he has his own power base, they need each other. The same goes for the local crime boss and Salah (Almamy Kanouté), an imposing individual who is associated with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
The plot of "Les Misérables" begins when members of a small newcomer traveling circus drive around the neighborhood shouting curses like, "Whoever stole Jimmy, we'll eat your brain."
Jimmy turns out to be a lion-lion cub, and when the police try to retrieve him, something unpredictable and terrible happens, and it's in the nature of the neighborhood that every faction is desperate not to do the right thing but to find a way to use it. the in your favor.
Ly says that everything in the movie was inspired by real events and, except for the three tracks and Balibar, cast him with nonprofits.
Equally impressive, and it may not have been easy, he is sympathetic to all sides, even the police, honoring the complexity of the situation, refusing to offer easy solutions to intractable problems.
Most of all, especially with its annoying ending, "Les Misérables" wants us to think. What we have done as a society, what we continue to do, what can be done to change things before it is too late.
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Rated: R, for all language, some disturbing / violent content and sexual references
Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Begins November 29, Cinelounge Arena, Hollywood; in limited version January 10