Songs of Angry Men: Les Misérables Features a Strong Political Message But Falls Short on Emotion 

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  • Amazon Studios

The Oscar-nominated French drama Les Misérables isn’t based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name, but it does share a setting and some thematic elements. Directed by Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly, and adapted from his own short, this Les Misérables is set in Montfermeil, a suburb of Paris where two of Hugo’s literary characters, Jean Valjean and Cosette, initially meet.

Les Misérables follows three police officers, volatile Chris (Alexis Manenti), relaxed Gwada (Djebril Zonga) and level-headed Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), the latter of whom recently joined the force’s anti-crime unit. As Chris and Gwada show Stéphane the lay of the land, viewers get a glimpse of the diverse people living in the area.

Although French citizens have just celebrated a World Cup victory together, the camaraderie is short-lived when a group of burly gypsies, who own a traveling circus, start looking around the projects for a young black boy they think stole their lion cub. The storyline steers Les Misérables into a narrative dead end, in which the unengaging plot advances confidently but with little emotional support from Ly’s characters.

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  • Amazon Studios

As racial tensions reach a breaking point, Ly and co-writers Giordano Gederlini and Manenti don’t seem to know where to focus their energy and end up spreading their message thin. Inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris, the animosity boiling over in the streets is palpable, but the film lacks context and a real understanding of the anger that sets the final act ablaze.

Les Misérables deals with strong social topics, sure, but French officials should have chosen the superior Portrait of a Lady on Fire to represent their country at the Academy Awards this year. Instead, they put their money on making a political statement and missed the mark.

Les Misérables is currently playing exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro.

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March 25, 2020


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