One of the 2019’s most powerful films, this confident feature debut by Ladj Ly serves a potent wallop of social injustices and street-level rage.
Dir. Ladj Ly
2019 | France | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 102 mins | 2.35:1 | French
NC16 (passed clean) for language throughout, some disturbing/violent content, and sexual references
Cast: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djibril Zonga
Plot: A cop from the provinces moves to Paris to join the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil, discovering an underworld where tensions between the different groups mark the rhythms of daily life.
Awards: Won Jury Prize (Cannes); Nom. for Best International Feature (Oscars)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Slightly Heavy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector – Singapore International Film Festival 2019
“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!”
This famous line from La Haine (1995) resonates loudly in its modern incarnation Les Miserables by Ladj Ly, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes.
Expanded from his 2017 short of the same name, this bracingly powerful film is not just a confident first feature, but one of 2019’s finest. Ly serves a potent wallop of social injustices, racial tensions and police abuses that culminate in several set-pieces, some involving kids.
Told from the perspective of a trio of policemen who are part of the anti-crime brigade, Ly’s realist style brings them—and us—deep into their ‘hood’ where working-class immigrants of African descent work and play.
Les Miserables build up to several dramatic crescendos as misunderstandings and suspicions rise to a boil, threatening retaliatory violence.
Ly captures street rage at the level of these verbal-sparring characters, who frequently reinforce racial stereotypes and seem prime to take the law into their own hands.
Fantastic performances all-round, Les Miserables begins with France’s triumphant World Cup football win in a series of emotionally-charged scenes.
It is amazing to see how Ly fashions a climax as emotionally-charged as its prologue, but with a mood so ominously intense and shattering that you surely come out of the cinema needing more than a moment’s breath.