Sunday, December 1, 2019

Les Misérables: Boyz n the French Hood

By José Alberto Hermosillo

COLCOA FILM REVIEW: Brilliant, compelling, and unmerciful masterwork, “Les Misérables” is a fresh new approach to Victor Hugo’s magnum opus classic to today’s urban conflicting suburbs in France.

The winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes 2019, this film endures universal themes of inequality, marginalization, greed, and violence derived from social injustice.
Lodj Ly, director of  Les Misérables at COLCOA. Photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
Influenced by his experiences during the big-city project riots in 2005, director Lodj Ly adapted “Les Misérables” from his 2017 Award Winner short film.

The timing of this astonishing film debut couldn’t be any better, as Lodj’s story departs from the eruption of the collective euphoria on the streets of Paris, motivated by the victorious celebration of FIFA’S Soccer World Cup Championship won by France in Russia’s 2018. The event unified the country and sparked its social differences as well.

The film moves from the iconic Parisian monuments to the not-so-charming projects of Montfermeil, 10 miles east of Paris. Inside those tiny apartments in the middle of the raucous building construction area, people pile up, surviving with limited resources and difficult circumstances.

As the camera moves in, conspicuously, we start learning more about the composition of the new French society integrated by Africans, Muslims, and Middle East immigrants. Their descendants: hundreds of youngsters out on the streets, as a chorus of this never-ending operatic composition trying to tell us something more meaningful and substantial about people’s struggles.

From the very beginning, the antagonistic groups line up. Among those - are the gypsies owners of a colorful circus - the black immigrants, the mafia guys, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the shady cops.

The officers’ actions trigger out-of-control chaos, and the anarchy could jeopardize their well-being. The compromising situation can be overwhelmingly dangerous and explosive as a Molotov cocktail.

As Le Commissaire (Jeanne Balibar, “Barbara,” “I Hate Love”) instructs her police officers about the word “solidarity” at the police division: “There is no solidarity without a team, we are alone, you only have each other.” She introduces to the squad the new element, brigadier Stéphane Ruiz interpreted by Damien Bonnard (“The Trouble with You,” “Dunkirk”). The other two officers, Chris and Gwada (Alexis Manetti and Djibril Zonga), are reluctant to accept the rookie’s inclusion. 

Inside the patrol, Chris takes the lead, acting above the law and feeling like the new sheriff in the town of a cowboy movie. He thinks he can do whatever he wants.
The officers’ felonies start by harassing teenage girls at a bus stop. They must also deal with merchants and informants at the open market or mediate between gypsies and Muslims over a stolen lion cub.
As the story unfolds rapidly, only some trends become fully resolved. The audience wants to follow up on a video taken by a drone operated by a kid who witnesses police brutality. We want to know if the video went viral and the reaction of its viewers in the story - after all, things get out of control effervescently. 
Lodj Ly, director of  Les Misérables, and actors Damien Bonnard and Djibril Zonga at COLCOA. Photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
This new and more visceral adaptation of Les Misérables was inspired by witnessing police brutality by the director Lodj Ly. 

He said his film was hard to finance because of the subject matter. It took him nearly ten years the making. Two hundred people participated in his epic production. The young actors were primarily children from the immigrant community with no experience, hope, or future. By having them participate in this film, they attained a new meaning to their lives. 

In Lodj Ly’s words, he compromises with that marginalized, underprivileged immigrant community. Therefore, he is creating a film school to induct children into the visual arts and let them tell their stories through those powerful images of their surroundings. 
Lodj Ly, director of  Les Misérables at COLCOA. Photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
French society unifies by winning the World Cup. Soccer gives the feeling of belonging to a country. But when the game is over, everyone goes back to their differences.  

The reality presented in “Les Misérables” shakes the viewer by juxtaposing collective happiness with the anarchy catapulted by the corrupt cops. The Award-Winning project vividly shows the young people struggling with no future in an alienated society.

The French film is a catharsis with a small window open for hope and the possibility of constructing an inclusive society shortly, idealistically thinking.

 Djibril Zonga, actor. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
Lodj Ly, director of  Les Misérables. Film critic José Alberto Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019 
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