You think you know kids and Paris? Think again with this loose update of Les miserables.
Director: Ladj Ly (The Pitiful)
Screenplay: Ly, Giordano Gederlini (The Invader), Alexis Manenti (The Last Panthers)
Cast: Damien Bonnard, Manenti
Runtime: 1h 44m
By: John DeSando
“Those who live are those who fight.” Victor Hugo
Because I have had my fill of violence recently in the realism of For Sama and the fantasy of The Gentlemen, I can more easily recognize the artistic importance of it to represent the malign tendencies of human nature and the absurdity of having to defend life with terror rather than thought. The rugged streets of ethnically-diverse Paris, usually hidden from us white travelers, come alive in this loose update of Les miserables by director Ladj Li.
Violence is cinematic, and in the Oscar-nominated Les miserables, set in Hugo’s modern-Paris hood, it serves to explode in our minds the great divide between kids and adults and the evil of police brutality for those kids doomed to spend their days under racist dominance and ignorant supervision. The
Young Issa (Issa Perica) steals a baby lion from a circus; an active crime unit, led by modern-Javert Chris (writer Alexis Mananti), pursues him with brutal results. As white police clash with predominantly Muslim citizens, kids ironically become the antagonists, as if writer/director Li wanted to remind us that in Lord-of-the-Flies tradition, even the innocent are not so innocent if we teach them well. Hugo would have agreed that the adults in charge are jailers with cruelty on their minds.
The cinematographic movement of this Oscar-nominated drama is active with Steadicam balance and drone perspective. We are there.
Of the dozen or so characters, not one is neglected, and not one is irrelevant to the plot. As for the Parisian setting, Ladj makes sure the Eifel Tower appears in a few shots, more I suspect to make fun of our cliched experience with the great city because the hood we see in Les miserables is the world we most likely would never see in our travels. Chalk up another of cinema’s gifts to us.
Here’s a film of enormous humanity and entertainment couched in a tense world of racist clashes and violent conclusions. Hugo would agree while offering a modicum of hope: “The darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com.