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Why you should see this film...
trpuk196810 December 2019
Profoundly moving, hard hitting moral drama elevated beyond being yet another 'banlieu' film through masterful use of cinematic language, combined with heartfelt performances from a largely non professional cast. France's ongoing tensions around identity, race and belonging expand, confronting you head on with dilemmas about the sheer difficulty of the human condition.

Looking for something going further than social realism? Comfortable being uncomfortable? Willing to question the assumptions of multiculturalism and the liberal enlightenment project? Prepared to wrestle with the effort of formulating just what questions need asking instead of expecting someone to bring you answers? Les Miserables will be for you.

Opening with shots of young black teenagers celebrating France's world cup victory celebrations in Paris in 2018, concluding this opening scene with a shot of the Arc de Triomphe superimposing the title Les Miserables, director Ladj Ly at once situates himself in a canon of French 'auteurs' while claiming space for these marginalised and excluded kids as being indeed French and, furthermore, spiritual descendants of the 19th century 'Les Miserables' of Victor Hugo's novel.

Montfermeil cite (housing project / estate), on the Eastern outskirts of Paris. Following the world cup, three policemen, Chris, Gwada and newcomer to the team Stephane, are looking for a thief who's stolen a lion cub from a travelling circus - they have a limited amount of time - if the cub isn't returned, war will erupt between the various patriarchal groups who live uneasily alongside one another in the cite.

The liberal enlightenment project assumes the inevitability of 'progress' - it's only a matter of time before everyone, everywhere in the world, adopts European (French) systems of democracy, liberal capitalism and so on. Human beings are rational and reasonable, living peacefully through democracy, state institutions and the rule of law.

The 'panopticon' is a system of total surveillance which emerged from 18th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. This can be seen to manifest in housing estates like Montfermeil - uniform, system built apartment blocks facilitating observation and control. However, the surveillance is subverted by the nerdy boy Buzz (played by the director's son, Al Hassan Ly) whose hobby is flying drones and who, through the drone, witnesses and records an act of police brutality.

Spectacular use is made of the cite with drone shots soaring above the apartment buildings. Implying freedom, escape yet there's something more sinister. Early on the viewer is implicated in Buzz's pubescent voyeurism using his drone to spy on women - we see from his point of view, implicating us in his voyeurism which confronts us with how so often people in these places are used by politicians and the mainstream media as objects to be exploited for entertainment or political purposes. What's our purpose in watching this? How many times have we watched prurient documentaries about 'tough gangs' or 'problem estates?' While 'District 13' or 'La Haine' spring to mind as obvious comparisons, Les Miserables shares some characteristics, including one crucial scene in particular, with Francois Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows'. Both films show marginalised, excluded children. The same difficult age, 12 / 13, moving away from childhood into adolescence.

An academic called Anne Gillain wrote an essay about 'The 400 Blows' called 'The Script of delinquency' drawing on psychoanalytic theories from DW Winnicott and Melanie Klein. Returning to Gillain's work helps account for why and how Les Miserables is so much more than just another 'banlieu'/ social realist film.

Issa's mother in Les Miserables appears, like Mme Doinel, in 400 Blows, uninterested in her son. If I understood the dialogue correctly, when the cops call at the flat, she doesn't know where he is. Instead, she shows Gwada a room full of female friends counting out money. Clearly materialism and money are more important than children.

Stealing is central in both films - Gillain draws on psychotherapists Winnicott and reads stealing as being 'a gesture of hope' on the part of the child to reclaim the care and love to which they are entitled. Lead actor Issa Perica is perfectly cast as Issa - cub like himself with his delicate features, complexion, beige combat pants, sporting a T shirt with a lion motif explicitly identifying him with the animal. This however is an animal destined for a life of imprisonment as a circus animal. By stealing the cub Issa at one and the same time reclaims the nurturing to which he's entitled and by liberating the animal expresses his own yearning for freedom beyond the confines of his current life.

If women have little visibility in Les Miserables I read this as a comment by Ly on the macho posturing of the patriarchal society he reflects. Women, when they do appear, are strong figures. Teenage girls answer back when provoked by the cop Chris, an inadequate little bully of a man. An enraged mother intervenes against the cops' abusive questioning of four small boys.

If the state has abandoned these kids, literally excluding them and their families to the peripheries, other organisations or institutions don't offer much in the way of alternatives. There's the fast food restaurants and a fast food stand whose owner turns the kids away when they ask for food - the nurturing they seek, embodied by food, is denied them. Promises of reward and fulfilment through work unfulfilled for those too young to participate in economic activity.

Another form of imprisonment is implied through conformity to religion. During a scene when the boys are invited to the mosque, the camera is close in to the Imam and his co worshippers, wearing Islamic dress and beards. One of the boys yawns. Religion, with it's imperatives of dress, conformity of appearance, closes down possibility. By contrast, when they're left to their own devices - playing basketball, making slides from discarded car doors or goofing around in a paddling pool with water pistols, freedom expresses itself through camera work which opens out to long, expansive shots. Envisaged by the state as ordered, regimented public housing the cite becomes instead a locus of spontaneity - space around the blocks is reclaimed as somewhere to play. A similar binary operates in The 400 Blows with interior shots (carceral space) contrasted with exterior - the city as a place of exciting potentialities.

In Les Miserables carceral (prison) space manifests through cars. Patrolling the cite the three cops are confined to their car, unable to leave it for fear of attack. Ultimately, the custodians are metaphorical prisoners themselves, in contrast to the kids, who occupy the space of the cite. There seems little to distinguish the cops from criminals. At one stage, Chris negotiates a favour with the criminal owner of a sheesha lounge. Where's the moral compass? The police here, as representatives of the state, behave in ways which are anything but reasonable and rational. Their lack of integrity shown by their appalling mistreatment of the children they're supposed to protect.

Finally, staircases and trash feature prominently in both les Miserables and The 400 Blows, although as different signifiers. At one point Stephane is at the foot of the stairs of an apartment block, in the foyer, calling for reinforcements, unable to give his position. There's no address on the building, this is nowhere and everywhere. Montfermeil stands for every marginalised, excluded community, indeed estates like this are to be found on the fringes of every French town and city, populated in the main by those considered 'not enough French.'

I'm saying no more. Hopefully after reading this you'll be off to watch les Miserables as it should be seen - on the big screen. Enjoy.
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Thank goodness the director didn't listen to some of the critics...
francisvila5523 December 2019
Some people acknowledge that this movie is well shot, but complain that it doesn't get the roots of the problem, doesn't point out the culprits, probably the capitalist society and France's colonial past. Neither does it offer much in the way of easy solutions, which would have been completely off the mark. Any of that would have led to a militant movie that would have satisfied a few militants but that would have had much less impact on the rest of the viewers.

People compare this movie to La Haine, which was a landmark in its time; but Les Miserables takes a much wider view, where each participant - even the shadiest - has his own logic (few women in this movie, btw) and reasons for doing what they are doing. It is this humanist outlook that tags it to Victor Hugo, rather than the story that has little to do with the novel of the same name.

The suspense is riveting to the end, all the more that we don't know exactly where the movie is going. There are loads of short appearances by little-known actors that leave you wondering whether they are are actually acting a part or playing their own role. The action scenes are realistic and original.
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A Masterpiece
rachidferdinands-5606228 September 2019
An intense and powerful drama that shows the raw reality of life in French inner cities. At times breathtaking, LES MISÉRABLES is doubtlessy the strongest banlieue film since LA HAINE. Ly's debut feature is more than impressive.
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No jour de gloire, but much misery.
mjjusa-122 January 2020
I walked into the theater to see Les Miserables late this afternoon with no expectations.

Maybe a thought that this was a modern 'woke' version of Hugo's classic. It isn't. It's a gritty, fast paced, police procedural set in the banlieues of Paris. Unflinching about what the police find there, and how the police act and react to a Paris that tourists never see.

Sobering and revolutionary.

A stunning find and a great movie.
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Warning cry for French suburbs
matlabaraque5 January 2020
This movie deserves a round of applause for tackling such a big issue with such a refine style and a cautious but reasonable neutrality. So what is it all about ? Stéphane, a cop who recently joined the Montfermeil anti-crime brigade quickly discovers the tensions between the different groups in the neighbourhood, as well as the curious methods of his team mates. During an arrest, one of them gets overwhelmed by the evenets and made a terrible blunder but a drone has filmed all the scene. Beyond the police blunder, it's a denonciation of several misconducts in those areas and the complete state of neglect that all suffer from that is tackled in this film. In fact this movie has a lot of qualities starting of course by its content: real whistle blower of a latent conflict. A bit of a bolt out of the blue for those who were still dreaming of a pacified country. Don't get it wrong. The film does not call for civial war. It's just a depiction of what happens every day in some cities of France. The Victor Hugo's reference is just a wink, a little tribute as Monfermeil (the city where the story takes place) is also where the Thenardier family in Les Misérables (the book) used to live. In fact the movie is more about what the word "Les Misérables"' means than about the story of the book. The film focuses on the miserable people living, working (the cops of course), growing (the kids) and their interractions an conflicts in those abandoned lands of the French republic. The director wanted to send a message to the authorities and make them realize what are the feelings of the people living there who had been left in the lurch after political promises for so many years. The fact that the director tackles this issue through the policemen' eyes is daring and intelligent since we quickly realize that the policemen are part of these miserable people as well. Then starts on a vicious circle which leads to the final phrase of Victor Hugo himself: there is no bad seeds, or bad men but just bad growers. In terms of rythm, intensity and style the film is a great success . You never loose the tension, you never want to take sides but you want to know where and how it will end up even if you fear it will end up badly. The amateur actors and profesional actors are all of them very genuine especially the bad and the good cop. The scene of the conflict between the gypsies and the kids of the neighborhood was quite of a shock, and the plot in general is gripping from the beginning to the end. I highly recommend it.
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Bravo Bravo
jim9tan3 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The film was showed at the VIFF in October. The Director is Ladj Ly.

It's an insight into a rough Paris suburb, Montfermeil. The same district used by Victor Hugo as backdrop for his novels. While the motive is to increase social consciousness of the conditions in this concrete jungle, the director has also crafted an excellent thriller.

The film opens with scenes of Montfermei boys celebrating France's soccer victory, with waving of French flags. Then, we follow them around Montfermei which is not a nice place.

On a parallel track, we are introduced to unassuming policeman (Corporal Ruis) who joins a plainclothes detail in Montfermei.

Ruis is part of a roving patrol, demonstrating police 'presence' to the pimps, drug dealers and petty criminals. Ruis is told that a blowjob here costs 2 euros.

It gets complicated because of the presence of a Muslim Brotherhood chapter that is trying to provide moral leadership. And, a black mayor trying to be a player. Then, there's the kid who uses a drone for peeping.

Ruis' sergeant believes that he is the Law in the area. Using violence and coercion to get his way. Abusing teenage girls for illegally smoking. In general, believing like a pig.

The two narratives collide. The minor incident of a lion cub stolen from a circus, rapidly escalates into what Ruis calls 'the worst day of my life..."

Underlying the dangerous political and social instability in districts like this.

After a very tense and violent afternoon, the men return home where they are just sons and fathers.

Unfortunately, the next day, the neighborhood kids exact revenge with an insurrection. Ambushing the cops. The film ends on a cliff hanger.

All of the actors, young and old were excellent. Pacing was just right for a 100 minute show. Many background shots between the action scenes.

IMO, this is as good as it can be without the length of a mini-series.
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Mixed feelings...
gcarpiceci26 November 2019
Les Miserables is a very well crafted movie, with excellent photography and acting, able to keep the narrative tension at good levels all along the story, with a very dramatic ending. The reason why I left the theatre with somewhat mixed feelings is that, if the movie had the ambition to elevate itself above the pure police procedural and to offer a point of view on an extremely delicate theme like the inflammatory social, racial and religious tensions of the Paris banlieue, well on this level the movie does not deliver. Les Miserables shows more than interprets, it engages the spectator without going under the surface of the issue. The post credit quote from Victo Hugo ("Remember this, my friends: there are not bad grass or bad men, just bad growers") just reinforced my doubts, as the movie focussed on the bad grass and not at all on the issue of "bad growers".
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Very powerful
lazarid21 November 2019
The film touches subjects which although very important, remain out of focus in almost all contemporary narratives. As the title «Les miserables» indicates, the protagonists are the victims of a system which breeds inequality and marginalization of a large proportion of the population. The story develops linearly, the scenes stay within the essential statements, spectacularly false impressions are omitted and the message comes through effectively. My feeling was that there was really no plot but an ordinary, documentary like, day to day happening in one of the ghettos of civilized Paris in France. What I found very interesting and revealing was the depiction of the inability of western societies to assimilate, integrate and absorb different cultures. I was left wondering.
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Well Acted
edwardiancinema12 October 2019
Les Miserables (2019) is a well acted, loose, updated version of Victor Hugo's classic novel. Damien Bonnard plays a sympathetic police officer, assigned to a new team, policing an intercity town in France. He is met with difficulties from the people, as well as from his fellow officers, however he is able to hold it together. I would recommend this film to anyone that enjoys good cinema.
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Impressive, but ending not credible
wj20072 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The first 90 minutes of this film is a quite impressive multiple viewpoint drama showing the difficult interactions in a rundown Paris immigrant neighborhood between an ethically challenged three member police unit, the impoverished immigrant residents (largely Moslem and African), and assorted adolescents. The presentation is quite realistic. I was moved.

If the movie had ended there, I might rate it a 9. Unfortunately it did not. Instead the film is marred by its violent not credible ending. Hence my rating of 7.

On one day, while investigating a case concerning the theft of a lion cub, the three policemen are set upon by the adolescent thief's teen age friends. The children threaten the police. They throw rocks. The police overreact, seriously injuring the thief as he tries to escape. Various consequences ensue, but in the end a level of calm is apparently restored.

Alas, in revenge the next day the three police and several other adults are ambushed by a highly organized gang of young men wearing black hoodies. Garbage cans and shopping carts are thrown at the police down flights of stairs. Flares and fireworks are shot at the police. The police behave stupidly. Rather than wait for back-up, they put themselves into a situation of extreme life-threatening danger. The adolescents, instead of behaving as a disorganized gang of delinquents, suddenly show an almost military level of tactics and organization and a lethal rage.

Frightening and as disturbing as this violence is, intellectually I simply could not buy into it. Sorry, but a group of socially marginalized boys cannot be transformed in a single day into an almost military level combat unit.
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Ok, Boomer..
redder41517 January 2020
Phhhht! No comparison, pretentious cinema as social-justice signaling vs a written Victor Hugo classic whose primary purpose to write the novel, Les Miserables, is to demonstrate and show the then true social injustices that he witnessed in France as seen in the life of its characters. He wrote the novel to serve as an awakening of the people over ignorance, violence and poverty...

This movie is nothing compared to 2005 riots, and most people in this world, unless you are Parisians, would fall for this propaganda over "White vs. Black" nonsense. It's 2020 and everyone know minorities are the most racist and committed unlawfully acts.

Learn to live in reality.
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new kid on the block
ferguson-612 January 2020
Greetings again from the darkness. Being the new student in school can be an emotionally trying experience for some kids. Now take that pressure and put it in a patrol car for law enforcement in a tough part of town where racial and religious tensions are always on edge. The 'new kid' in this case isn't a kid, but rather an adult cop ... and the experience will eclipse 'trying' and shift directly to life-altering. "Ever since 2005 ..." is a line that reminds us that the Paris riots of that year remain fresh in the minds of locals, and police harassment is applied to most every stop or interrogation. This is an area that has yet to reclaim balance and writer-director Ladj Ly, having grown up in this part of the city, is more qualified than anyone to tell these stories.

Montfermeil is the Paris suburb where Victor Hugo wrote his classic 1862 novel "Les Miserables". Recently divorced Stephane (played by Damian Bonnard) has transferred to the Anti-Crime Squad (ACS) in the area to be closer to his young son. His first day on the new job involves riding on patrol with local officers Chris and Gwada, who are veterans of these streets. Chris (played by Alexis Manenti) is a racist, hardened by the locals who have nicknamed him "Pink Pig". Chris's intimidation methods are old school and iron-fisted. Gwada (played by Djebril Zonga) is an African-Muslim who tries to capitalize on his own roots with locals, even though they now consider him a traitor.

Immediately obvious is the fact that Stephane's 'by-the-book' approach doesn't meld with the forceful posture assumed by Chris and Gwada. "Greaser" is the nickname Chris gives to Stephane, emphasizing that the new cop doesn't fit on the streets or in the patrol car. As the prime example of how this environment can cause a small situation to escalate quickly due to one wrong word or movement, a young thief named Issa takes a lion cub from a travelling circus as a prank. The next thing we know, the Muslim Brotherhood is involved and threats are flooding every interaction, creating tensions for all. When the cops finally track down Issa, an accident occurs that further escalates the tensions between various street factions and the cops. Things get really ugly when it's discovered a young boy captured the event with his drone.

Director Ly opens on citywide excitement at the 2018 World Cup with a backdrop of Paris sites such as The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. The script from Ly and co-writers Giordano Gederlini and Alexis Manenti doesn't allow us to wallow in the happiness for long. Soon, we are on the streets with the cops in Victor Hugo's (and Ly's) setting - contemporary only in look, not feel or substance. We are dropped into an environment where each moment is dictated by racial-social-political lines. Foot chases, car chases, and confrontations are de rigeur. Disenchantment cloaks kids and adults alike, and the fear of anarchy never wanes. A bad day for Issa turns into maybe the worst ever first day for Stephane. This is one of the year's most incredibly tense and gripping films, and one that leaves us exhausted and dumbfounded. It's a brilliant work.
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You don't know kids or Paris until you have seen Les miserables 2019
jdesando25 January 2020
"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's

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."
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A really good movie, an unsatisfying ending
sudofalcon10 December 2019
A really good movie, an unsatisfying ending Yeah I was waiting for some post credit scenes..
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Very good but..
marbanks295 February 2020
The movie is very good but left me a bit unsatisfied. It is well shot with good acting from all the actors. But it seems like the story was mixed with La Haine, Banlieue 13 Ultimatum and City of God. The bad cop/good cop story line along with the outsider point of view of one of the policemen felt cliché (as some parts of the dialogue). It has a good message and I could clearly see the intentions of the director in making this movie. But, as someone familiar with French cinema that shows Paris suburbs, police brutality and racism in France in general, I haven't seen anything new here. And I know there's still a lot in those issues that hasn't been shown in movies yet. As this movie is nominated for an oscar I was expecting something more.
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Great movie in the spirit of La Haine
nicolas-fontan28 November 2019
A must see movie, nuanced and clever, made by a talented instructor who grew up there and has made quality documentaries. For his first "fiction" movie (which uses only real facts as inspiration), he made a masterpiece.
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Intense story remarkably well told
joellyn-gray18 January 2020
Powerful drama centered on gang relations in a public housing community in France - between immigrants and native born, African and Muslim, young and old, law-abiding and unlawful. This is a story of a status quo that's challenged, of good that turns bad, and bad that you find sympathy for. But it is much, much more than that. There are many circles of relationships that shift through expectations, actions, and reactions, escalating with greater and greater intensity. When we watched the film, there was a collective gasp by the audience at the ending. On the surface you might hear the plot and say "It's like The Wire" or "I've seen this kind of thing before" - but you haven't. This film is remarkably well layered and thought provoking. The final image will stick with you for a very long time.
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Edge-of-seat material, one of 2019's best and most sobering
Horst_In_Translation27 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
"Les misérables" is a new French film that runs for 105 minutes and this one is among the biggest players this awards season from Europe. This includes consideration by the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe Awards and the Oscars as well as many other award ceremonies. I loved Tom Hooper's take on the subject from a few years ago, but this one here has nothing in common with that one. Both deliver for different reasons. If you know the traditional "Les Misérables" a bit, you will find some parallels, but if eventually there is nothing that clicks for you except that brief conversation in the car about Victor Hugo, Gavroche and Cosette, then that is fine too. One example for me here really was the parallel between Gavroche and Issa, with violence against both kids really causing everything to fall apart in an endless abyss of destruction. There are differences of course too as Issa is really injured and in danger of being killed by a lion even on one occasion, but he lives. But first things first: This Oscar-nominated movie was written (with others) and directed by Ladj Ly and for him it is a really special project because he grew up exactly where this film takes place, which may be the key reason why it felt very authentic. Another reason is that this is his first full feature film ever and that makes it even more special how well-received this one turned out. And what I personally like a lot is that Ly recast exactly these actors that appeared in a short film with the same title that Ly made initially before he turned it into a full feature film. I never really like if they replace actors, especially if the original ones are certainly good enough for this to become a satisfying outcome. And that is certainly true here. All the actors did a good job, not only the ones at the very center, but also every supporting player really and also the many child actors you will find in here, some of them even playing key characters, most of all the one I mentioned earlier already, but also the boy with the drone for example.

Like I wrote in the title of my review, this is a film that will totally have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. We have a guy who joins the police force in a part of France that really struggles a lot with all kinds of crime, almost all of these connected with immigrants (or at least people with a foreign background), and that involves drugs, prostitution and just violence in general. But there is also more exotic stuff as we find out here when there is a lion cub involved that is stolen from a circus. The two groups clashing over this issue seem really dangerous, but looking at how the film ends, there is definitely another really dangerous group that may initially have not seemed that way. I won't go any further into detail. You must experience that yourself. It is pretty shocking though how the violence escalates more and more and the police is not exactly helping it with how they act in here. We, the audience, are basically in the same spot like the male protagonist, the guy who joins the force, as we know nothing about his new squad, but find out more and more the more time we spend with the guys, the other two officers that is. There is that scene early on with the marijuana-smoking girl that is also featured in the title and already shows us about the aggression from both sides really, but if you thought that this is the one that escalates the most, think again. It was in retrospective even slightly funny how they here made us feel somewhat safe that a day of work is over and they are back at home all of them, the good guys and the bad guys, although this description is not too perfect because they did so well here with giving the characters realistic shades. The one who shoots the kid is really the best example how we see him cry at home and how he calmed that woman down earlier, so she lets him inside, almost trusts him. This is really a good movie, which is also shown by how well it delivers in terms of attention to detail. Just take the protagonist and how he wears his brassard (is that the right word?) that identifies him as a police officer and how his colleagues make fun of that and tell him later on that everybody knows they are cops anyway. There are many more examples of that.

I still find it fascinating or maybe it makes me also a bit sad to see how well France is doing with movies that elaborate on this subject of culture clashes, this time as a gritty crime drama, but also in general becaue immigration has been among the hottest subjects for a really long time now and every time Germany makes a film like that, it normally turns into a big mess that of course must have comedy too like "Willkommen bei den Hartmanns" for example. There are other examples too and 99% of them are really bad. I mean my fellow countrymen cannot be that uncreative while France gets out one excellent film on this subject after the next, even if it is by filmmakers like Ly, who really are not very experienced at all. Shameful really. Anyway, I should be glad France does it this well and it results in quality watches like this one here that are so incredibly tense and have such excellent quality. I also think it is superior to "Parasite", the film that has the foreign language Oscar in the bag now, but then again I am not a big fan of this, and also think Almodóvar's most recent (another nominee in the category) is better than Parasite. I would be so happy if "Les misérables" wins the category, but it is impossible to happen I think. Okay what else can I say about this one here. The running time is also perfect. It feels essential, not too long, not too short. Basically every decision they made here makes sense. What I personally find sometimes a bit difficult is when there are really many characters in a film and frequently they do not get the accurate elaboration and presentation or just feel for the sake of it while adding nothing, but this is also not the case here at all. Every character made sense, even if they just had one or two scenes, and that actually applies to really many characters here. Overall, before I conclude, let me say that despite children, especially one boy (or two), playing a key role here, this is not a film you want to show your small ones. It is way too harsh for that. As you may have seen from my review, I find it very hard to come up with any real flaws here, which also explains my rating I guess. The fact that I for example do not like one bit the ways in which the characters within the unit talk to each other, or in general interact with each other, does not mean they ring false. They don't. They feel pretty authentic. It is just my subjective take that I would not want any of it. So yeah, like I said, it is probably among my top5 films from 2019 at this point. Highly recommended.
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Hard-hitting police procedural chronicles unrest in French inner city housing projects
Turfseer25 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Les Misérables is Ladj Ly's hard-hitting police procedural set in Montfermeil, the eastern suburb of Paris where the Thénardiers' inn from Victor Hugo's famed novel is also located.

Ly grew up in this area, marked by housing projects populated by minority residents chiefly of North African (Muslim) origin. He follows a squad of three police officers who patrol the area in their squad car. When we first meet them, Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), a transfer apparently from a more middle-class precinct, has joined the team, led by Chris (Alexis Manenti), a tough, no-nonsense officer of Caucasian extraction along with Gwada (Djibril Zonga), his equally hardened North African streetwise subordinate.

From the outset, Ruiz obviously is uncomfortable with Chris's willingness to skirt the law in order to bend the residents of Montfermeil to his will. Chris must deal with the "Mayor" of the neighborhood, who appears to receive bribes from local merchants in a large neighborhood flea market and acts as a quasi-mentor of the teenagers, most of whom engage in acting-out behavior. There is also Salah, a former criminal turned Iman, who provides spiritual counsel to the community but represents a more militant voice among the Muslim population, who are quite resentful of authority in general.

Ly cleverly breaks into his second act when Issa, a teenager steals a lion cub from a local circus run by a bunch of hothead gypsy racists, who drive into the projects carrying bats and threaten to attack the residents if the cub isn't returned to them immediately.

Chris and his squad break up the fight between the two groups. Ly pulls no punches in his depiction of the police officers, who engage in questionable, illegal tactics but remain devoted to resolving the burgeoning violent confrontation between the right and left wing militants. If they are unsuccessful, a full-scale riot may ensue.

Ly raises the stakes in his story when Gwada shoots Issa in the face with a flash gun after he and his pals surround the police and throw rocks at them. Meanwhile, a nerdy kid from the project has been filming the entire incident overhead with a drone and Chris races to confiscate the video card before it can be posted on the internet.

A climactic chase culminates in Chris allowing Ruiz to negotiate with Salah, who ultimately hands over the video card to ensure the riot doesn't take place. The lion cub is returned to the gypsies, but the owner of the circus punishes Issa by dragging him into a lion's cage as a warning not to steal any of their property again.

Ly's plot is clever as he both entertains and edifies, chronicling the explosive societal tensions that exist in French society today. Only the denouement, which features a riot by the teenagers as they trap the hapless three officers in the narrow confines of a hallway in one of the buildings, proves to be cinematic overkill. Ironically, it's the reasonable Ruiz, who stands pointing his firearm at Issa while he stands at the bottom of a stairwell, as the out of control teenager menacingly stands a flight above, brandishing a Molotov cocktail.

Eighty percent of the actors Ly employed here were local kids who had never acted in a film before. Ly's direction of them is masterful. At a recent Q&A, Ly confirmed that a good deal of the film's style was influenced by American films. I wouldn't be surprised if some US production houses came calling, offering loads of cash to adapt this for an English speaking audience, primarily for the US market.
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TOPBOJ13 November 2019
Amazing neighborhood story, definitely worth watching.
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Stream It
calivsey3 February 2020
Slow moving but engaging, Les Misérables is a well-crafted modern take on Victor Hugo's classic novel. Ultimately a police procedural, the story often feels familiar, but strong performances from complex characters will hold your attention through the film's intense final act.
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Unfortunately, I couldn't really get into this one
Jeremy_Urquhart3 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
I feel like something might have been lost in translation when it came to this movie and me. I'm not French, and admittedly am not very knowledgeable about any real life cases this movie is surely based on, or at least inspired by. I went into this looking for a compelling cop/crime movie, and appreciated it for some of its visuals, performances, and its overall message. Because yes, the topics it deals with- crime, inequality, police brutality, systemic violence and cycles of oppression etc.- are all very important. The only problem is that I don't think the film is saying anything new or particularly eye opening. The Wire has dealt with this stuff amazingly well and in much greater detail, throughout many of its episodes. Most importantly, The Wire also managed to do all this while telling fascinating stories and giving us dozens of well developed, flawed, yet interesting and frequently sympathetic characters.

More than anything else, I think this is the biggest problem with Les misérables. The writing was weak to me. Like I said, it's well shot, the acting is all pretty good, the themes are relevant, and its message an important and more than agreeable one. But I just felt it did so little to involve me as a viewer. If you compare this to something like City Of God, which has a fantastic, relentless sense of pacing and a high number of hugely emotional scenes, this movie just falls apart. The main incident that gets the plot going takes too long to happen, and then doesn't really cause the plot to build or progress. The story then comes in fits and bursts. Some scenes feel like they go on forever. The characters are incredibly one-dimensional, and none really change or grow throughout the film. The dialogue is fairly basic, and there's little in the way of humour, sadness, or tension. There feels like there's about three different endings before a more exciting climax suddenly appears... only for it to be cut short by a hugely pretentious and eye-rollingly sudden ending. Like, I get what they were saying by ending it the way they did. But it felt so cheap and unearned, especially because it had already felt like the movie had ended multiple times before that. It's barely over 100 minutes in total, but it felt more like two and a half hours.

Oh also, more of a nitpick- and certainly not a problem for those who speak French- but the subtitles weren't very well done in my opinion. They weren't bold enough, and so often when the white lettering appeared on a white or mostly white background, I couldn't read them too well. Giving them a black outline, making them bolder, or putting them on the black border at the bottom of the screen (which happens given this film is shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio) could have solved this.

I think there was potential here for a more compelling movie, and if you're more after a film with a powerful message that reflects and touches upon current issues, this could be worth a watch. It'll likely start conversations, and open eyes, and maybe that's enough. I just thought it largely failed as a story; as an actual film. It highlights the importance of pacing and well-developed characters more than anything else, because everything else was done quite well. It fell apart with the writing for me, but I know I'm in an extreme minority here, so if this looks interesting to you, please don't let the ignorant, random non-French guy on the Internet put you off this too badly. I just had some thoughts I had to get out I suppose, and overall, it's far from terrible, even with what I perceived to be a fairly weak screenplay.
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An audacious police drama, Les Miserables has strong visual storytelling but varying thematic coherence
andrewroy-0431629 January 2020
Les Miserables has plenty of points to make, and while it inevitably fails on some and perhaps even on the main intended theme, the story is told with sufficient honesty to mostly work. The first half of the film is a slice of life movie of the life of a cop in an impoverished French slum, while the second half gets into its bigger political ideals. Ly clearly has vision and strong storytelling skills, as information is communicated with minimal exposition, and the pace is swift. There is some ambiguity in how good or helpful the characters in the movie are, particularly Greaser. We get a sense for what life is like living in the slums, but not a sense of what any of the boys are actually like. The second half dives deeper into its grander ideas, and one main point is made effectively, while many fall short. To me, the main theme of the movie was that absolute power absolutely corrupts, which is why accountability is essential for police officers, who are supposed to uphold the law. This is obviously personified by Chris, but also represented in the gradual use of force in the other two cops. With the quote from Les Mis at the end and the grand finale he has, I think Ly was going for a story of simmering tension between cops and unhappy citizens, until the shot was the last straw and the people rebel. There wasn't enough build for me in terms of the people's dissatisfaction and resentment towards the cops for this to really be effective. The main performance by the actor playing Greaser could've been much better, as he didn't really convey any emotion to me. It's a strange ending, especially with the quote about people not being good or bad but being cultivated, cause that really doesn't come across the rest of the movie. I do like the way the story is told visually and think it's an engaging plot and premise, but just don't think most of the ideas fully cohere. Decent film, but if my suspicions about Portrait are right, France probably made the wrong call on its Oscar nominee.
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authentic, modern, important
luis_sklh26 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Les miserables convinces by its topicality. The film shows in the most realistic way the life and power relations in the banlieues of Paris. In its depiction of these complex living spaces, Les Miserables is more detailed than almost any other and creates an impressive authenticity. Towards the end of the film this realistic character is mixed with more fictional, emotionally charged, exaggerated action scenes. Some people have criticized this development here, but I think that this progression is one of the movie's great strengths.
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Absolutely amazing. It hit me right in the heart.
subxerogravity22 January 2020
It's somewhere between Do the Right Thing and Detroit. Despite being made in another country it's so sad how relatable it is to police brutality here in American. It's definitely a power message that I hope will bring the world together instead of tearing us apart.
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