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Les Miserables

Ladj Ly

Inspired by the 2005 Paris riots, Ladj Ly’s explosive debut feature won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was France’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Oscars. Shot on location and using many first-time actors, Les Misérables is intense, full of energy and a palpable sense of realism and foreboding.

France has won the World Cup, and summer has arrived. The scene should be one of happiness but in tough, impoverished banlieue Montfermeil – also the backdrop of Victor Hugo’s classic historical novel – new arrival Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) immediately meets with trouble in the local anti-crime squad. Working alongside unscrupulous colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), Stéphane struggles to maintain order between the local gangs. When an arrest turns unexpectedly violent, all three officers must reckon with the aftermath to keep the neighbourhood from spiralling out of control.

“…intense, full of energy and a palpable sense of realism”

Created during a time of a troubling rise in nationalism in France and the wider world, it’s an urgent depiction of police brutality and a country caught in a violent struggle between competing visions of its past, present and future. It feels even more compelling and essential now. Ladj Ly is one of the French filmmakers being dubbed the “double vague” – directors challenging traditional narratives of what it means to be French – his talent is without question and his vision urgent and vital.

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