Cannes Review: ‘Les Misérables’ is an Ambitious, Sobering Debut Feature

The new film Les Misérables may take only passing glances to Victor Hugo’s text but it does boast a synopsis worthy of the sheer exuberance of that title. Hugo wrote his classic novel in the early-to-mid 19th century, but this film couldn’t be more wired-in to contemporary Paris if it tried. In it, we see the fuse of gang warfare lit when a young man, named Issa (Issa Perica), steals a lion cub from a traveling circus. Issa is a black kid in Saint-Denis, a buzzing multi-cultural suburb in the north of the French capital. The circus owners are Gypsy travelers. The most seemingly reasonable community leader is an ex-con turned Muslim Brotherhood sage named Salah (Almamy Kanoute), who runs the local kebab shop. The unofficial mayor of the block (Steve Tientcheu) wears not a shirt and tie but a jersey of the French national team with “Le Maire” on the back.
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