Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Same Misery

Les Misérables (2019) - Ly
Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 1.58.04 PM
Taking cues from Victor Hugo's eponymous novel, Ladj Ly's film zeroes in on Montfermeil, the suburb of Paris where Hugo's novel takes place. Ly makes a point from the get-go: Montfermeil's face might have changed- mostly North African/Muslim immigrants living in the projects, the poor and the oppressed are still as miserable as Hugo wrote two centuries ago, even though they are all French, cheering on for the same National soccer team at the 2018 World Cup.

Ruiz (Damien Bonnard) just got reassigned to the neighborhood. He is immediately nicknamed Greaser, for his slicked back hair, by Chris, his bigoted team leader and Gwada, his partner who grew up in the neighborhood. Doing the rounds through the neighborhood, Ruiz learns that this youth filled neighborhood has its own delicate socio-sphere where different figures occupying different positions in the community: there's self proclaimed mayor who thinks he is keeping peace, a kebob shop owner who doubles as the neighborhood Imam, a group of muslim brothers visiting and preaching young kids, a drug dealer who has a lot of influence and hot-headed gypsy circus folks with their own army. Ruiz's polite and well-intentioned behavior is frowned upon by Chris who often uses excessive force and intimidation. Chris sees himself as a realist. The world has been this way forever.

Things almost come to a head when the gypsies come charging in the neighborhood demanding the return of the lion cub which was stolen by Issa, one of the neighborhood kids. Chris diffuses the situation, promising the return of the animal. They track down Issa and corner him. But overwhelmed by protesting angry youngsters, Gwada accidentally shoots Issa with a flashgun in the face. And the whole incident is captured by drone camera operated by another neighborhood kid, Buzz.

The film becomes a chaser, where cops (Chris, Ruiz and Gwada) searching for Buzz to get the drone footage before it get put on the internet and ruin their career and Ruiz having ambivalent feelings about the whole situation.

After the lion cub gets returned and Issa, with his face mangled, gets humiliated by the gypsies and Gwada admits to Ruiz that shooting wasn't an accident but rather him losing his temper from all the stress of being a black cop in the neighborhood, The film gets more explosive at the end when the young angry mob take revenge on the cops and other grown ups in the neighborhood. The film ends with a Victor Hugo from the book - There are no bad plants or bad men: there are only bad cultivators", reminding all of us that the future doesn't belong to us but to the young. Les Misérables is a blistering, impactful film that needs to be seen widely.

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