By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
Director/co-writer Ladj Ly’s “Les Misérables,” winner of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and recent nomination in the Academy Award’s Foreign Language Film category, opens on Friday, January 17, 2020 at the Music Box Theatre, located at 3733 N. Southport Ave. For tickets and further information, visit https://musicboxtheatre.com/films/les-miserables.
The film is set in the projects of Paris, and as with many public housing projects—whether in the United States or abroad—the main inhabitants are poor, marginalized people. “Les Misérables” is a film version based on the novel written by French poet Victor Hugo that was first published in 1862. The themes presented in the original novel that include social justice, human rights, and class conflicts that result from these struggles are all at the forefront of this latest film version.
There is a bunch of young men who wander aimlessly around the area surviving the best they can—probably stealing food as a group or probably trying to get as much food as they can from the sidewalk vendors with as little money as possible.
One of the boys, Issa, decides to steal a lion cub from a local circus, which is run by a group of Gypsys. The Gypsys are, of course, upset, and this sets off a manhunt for the young boy from a trio of crooked cops who are on the take with everyone around.
This group of cops is comprised of Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), “Staying Vertical,” who has recently joined the Anti-Crime squad in Montfermeil, the sensitive district of the Paris projects where the film takes place. Paired up with Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), whose methods are sometimes unorthodox, Stéphane (who is called “Greaser” by his partners because of his wet looking hair) rapidly discovers the tensions between the various neighborhood groups.
As in most marginalized communities, the squad harasses the teens at every turn. And pursuing Issa and the stolen lion cub is just one more excuse to beat up on him and his buddies. When the squad finds itself overrun during the course of this arrest, a drone begins filming every move they make. And these movements point to another case of police brutality that the cops are committed to keeping under wraps.
In a revolutionary, defiant #Blacklivesmatter twist, the youth wage an all out riot against the cops, which the cops are hard pressed to contain.
“Les Misérables,” whose meaning simply means “the miserable ones,” is a character and class study whose themes are relevant all over the world where there is poverty and a model of the “haves vs the have-nots.” The film is presented in French with English subtitles.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, [email protected].