‘Les Misérables’ is far from miserable

“Les Misérables” is a 2019 French drama film directed and co-written by Ladj Ly, who was born in Mali, West Africa. While this is Ly’s first major directorial debut, his direction takes the film to new heights.

The film was distributed by Amazon Prime after being released in French theaters on Nov. 20, 2019.

As for its achievements, the film was nominated for an Oscar in 2020.

Although “Les Misérables” lost to “Parasite” as the Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Oscars, it did receive monumental praise from both critics and audiences alike.

While the film is called “Les Misérables,” there is very little in common with the musical or the 2012 film of the same name. In other words, the film is not a remake of the existing storyline – quite the opposite, in fact.

During a brief conversation in the film, a character mentions how Victor Hugo, the author of “The Miserables,” used to live in the building they drove past a few seconds earlier. Also, right before the credits, there is a quote from Victor Hugo. Those are the only two references to “Les Misérables” throughout the entire film. 

Unlike the 2012 film, there is no singing or dancing, and fewer upbeat moments. Instead, it has a gritty R rating, rather than a family-friendly PG-13. The film contains strong language and some graphic violence. 

Even though the film contains no well-known actors, the characters are quite realistic and believable.

But of all the characters, actors Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, and Djebril Zonga, truly steal the show.

Bonnard stars as Brigadier Stephane Ruiz, Manenti as Chris, and Zonga as Gwada.

After moving to Paris, Ruiz joins the local police department, whose cops patrol Montfermeil – a dangerous, impoverished suburb. Chris and Gwada, two veteran police officers, train Ruiz about how to deal with the difficult citizens on his first day of work. But things quickly get out of hand when one of Montfermeil’s citizens claims a black child stole a baby lion from his circus a few hours prior.

The three police officers look for the thief who stole the lion cub before a fight between the circus owners and the drug-lords breaks out. Once they find the child, though, the situation quickly gets out of hand.

Due to the short runtime, the film’s captivating premise never felt prolonged or rushed. And unlike a lot of blockbuster dramas, there was never a dull moment – every single scene had something going on in both the foreground and the background.

The somewhat shaky camerawork added to the intensity of the scenes – it felt as if the policemen were living the events. And although the film had a documentary-like style, the characters didn’t talk directly to the camera.

Despite the limited budget, the film succeeded in making the events which unfolded look and sound realistic, due to non-CGI effects. Every sound was loud and natural, unlike a lot of sound effects in movies nowadays.

“Les Misérables” absolutely blew me away, despite the fact I had absolutely no expectations before watching it. And even though I’m not a fan of foreign films, I can happily say this film is exceptionally good. 

The acting and script are fantastic, along with incredible direction by Ly. There have been very few films which I have not lost my interest in midway through – and this is certainly one of them. 

Not only is it original, but also isn’t focused on CGI in order to get a shock out of its audience.

Forget about the original – “Les Misérables” is the movie we all need right now. 


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The film is a staggering debut from an unknown director.

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