Les Misérables

Les Misérables

2020, R, 102 min. Directed by Ladj Ly. Starring Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Perica, Al-Hassan Ly, Nizar Ben Fatma, Jeanne Balibar.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Jan. 17, 2020

In the preface to Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, which shares the title of Ladj Ly’s brilliant film, he speaks of “social asphyxia,” an oppression that almost two centuries later continues to haunt us. And while France has a particular storied history of revolutions, Ly’s narrative, in the guise of a police procedural, captures these moments in its characters; in its action; in the way an opening scene of a successful football match, thousands crowded in the streets in solidarity, the Arc de Triomphe rising high in the background, segues into what becomes a quite complicated examination of modern France and, extensively, the world. Monsieur Hugo would be proud.

It’s based in part on the 2005 Paris riots that saw an uprising of Muslim and North African immigrants: impoverished, living on the outskirts of the city in daunting ghettos where unemployment was at an all-time high, ultimately lashing out in the only way they could express to the world their oppression and that they actually exist on this planet. As such, the film is, among many things, a haunting critique of society in the 21st century.

But to the plot that these heady and often perplexing themes hang on. Ruiz (Bonnard) is a police officer from the country who is newly assigned to accompany two cops, Chris (Manenti) and Gwada (Zonga), as they patrol the outlying suburbs of Paris. The two veteran cops are completely jaded, in the way veteran cops always are in these stories. Ruiz is the new guy, overwhelmed but competent, reeling as the viewer is to orient himself to all of chaos that is his new assignment. An unfortunate incident involving a youth that was captured by a drone owned by a young boy named Issa (Perica, wonderfully stoic) incites the intrigue and sends the cops into a tailspin as they navigate these neighborhoods of various ethnicities, searching for the video that could, perhaps, spark a riot. The way Ly and cinematographer Julien Poupard choreograph the film is amazing, especially the third act, which can be breathless at times. What Ly and his team have created here is so much more than a mere examination of disenfranchised communities. It is a molotov cocktail in the face of that lovely but increasingly outdated (unfortunately) motto of France: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The film offers no real answers, but that is entirely the point, one that is driven home repeatedly. There are so many suffering from the suffocation of “social asphyxia”; if only we could catch our breath.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Damien Bonnard Films
Thirst Street
Passions run deadly in this thriller

Josh Kupecki, Oct. 6, 2017

Dunkirk
A harrowing new World War II classic

Marc Savlov, July 21, 2017

More by Josh Kupecki
Standing Up, Falling Down
Billy Crystal and a smart script add heart to this burnout dramedy

Feb. 21, 2020

Two Warring Rabbits Defy the Odds to Love Each Other, and So Should We All
Two Warring Rabbits Defy the Odds to Love Each Other, and So Should We All
Rabbits (finally) at rest

Feb. 14, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Les Misérables, Ladj Ly, Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Perica, Al-Hassan Ly, Nizar Ben Fatma, Jeanne Balibar

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle