Les Misérables; a tension filled look at France's uneasy problem

Little did I know when I had left my recliner seat in screen seven at Omniplex Salthill on Thursday October 1 that it would be my last cinema experience for the foreseeable future as a level three lockdown was enforced the next Tuesday. But like most things in life, it is always good to go out with a bang and Les Misérables certainly provides plenty.

Set in modern day France (and not Victor Hugo's famous novel. Although the film does take place in the suburb of Montfermeil where Thénardiers' Inn was located ), Les Misérables explores the volatile relationship between the French authorities and the country's migrant population who mostly hail from former French colonies. Infamous far right politician Marine Le Pen has made calls to make France "more French", however, director Ladj Ly, who coincidentally hails from Montfermeil, response of Les Misérables is to say 'we are French and we demand to be treated as such'.

The film opens with jubilant scenes of France storming to the 2018 Football World Cup and Paris is awash with blue jerseys, Tricolores, and the many races that makes up the French population. However, as soon as the euphoria dissipates, we are given an insight to what life is like for those who 'are not French'.

The film follows three cops for a day on the beat; Stéphane or 'Greaser' (Damien Bonnard ) a cop who has moved into the city from the country to be closer to his son; Gwada (Djebril Zonga ), the cop who grew up in one of the dangerous banlieues or neighbourhoods; and Chris (Alexis Manenti ) who is under the spell of his own bigotry and believes only a zero tolerance (and zero respect ) approach will keep those he is supposed to be protecting and serving, in order. From trying to keep the lid on gang violence; making house calls to angry parents; and meeting the mayors of the banlieues, Les Misérables, is beautifully constructed so that the sense of tension is continually built without the viewer knowing when the powder keg is going to explode.

And detonate it does after an unfortunate incident which results in ne'er do well, child, Issa (Issa Perica ) being injured while in custody of the three policemen.

Ly wonderfully combines the view of which a lot of communities throughout the world have of their police forces; Stéphane - a policeman who is only trying to do right; Gwada - a policeman who wants to improve his life but has the weight of his own community believing he is a traitor for joining a force that oppresses them; and Chris - a policeman who is just a bigot, drunk on his own authority, and goes about his daily business with impunity. And we also see how a community who is under siege, will come to the support of one of its own, in spite of the individual's previous misdeeds.

Les Misérables is a superb insight into modern day France's social and economic problems. While the ending was a little bit unsatisfactory (I will give no spoilers ) especially for how brilliantly the tension was built, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and would recommend.

Overall rating 7.5/10

On a side note, it is very important to acknowledge the efforts made by the staff and management at Omniplex Salthill. There were ample hand sanitisers dotted throughout the lobby, protective screens were in place at the checkout with all staff wearing masks, and while I have always been impressed by its cleanliness, the theatres in Omniplex Salthill were always immaculately clean.

So when the time comes when cinemas can reopen once again, for those looking for an enjoyable evening in a safe environment, I would recommend heading to your local cinema because when you buy a movie ticket, you are not only receiving a heightened movie experience but you are supporting local jobs.


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