Luke McWilliams gives his review of the 2019 film, Les Misérables, that is based on a real-life occurrence of police violence which took place in Montfermeil on 14 October 2008.
Soon after France’s 2018 FIFA World Cup victory, new anti-crime recruit, police officer Stéphane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), is assigned to work with aggressive and abusive squad leader Chris (co-writer Alexis Manenti) and complacent brigadier Gwada (Djebril Zonga) in the Paris working-class commune of Montfermeil. Soon, the leader of a gypsy circus confronts local community leader ‘The Mayor’ about a missing lion cub that he believes one of The Mayor’s community members has stolen!
Based on a real-life occurrence of police violence observed and filmed by director and co-writer Ladj Ly, the movie is also inspired by the 2005 Paris riots. These were sparked by rising tensions due to police harassment of youth of African, North African and Arab heritage in the poorer housing estates of Clichy-sous-Bois. A state of emergency was declared as the riots went on for three weeks, resulting in more than 8,000 burnt-out vehicles and over 2,760 individuals arrested.
Rookie Stéphane’s training day is spent patrolling the area, getting the lay of the land and the unorthodox, ‘cowboy’ methods of his senior partners in keeping the peace. Key community leaders are introduced, as are the children at the brunt of the police harassment. When an arrest goes wrong and the resulting police violence is captured on drone footage, it is understood by all that the entire commune, if not the city, is at risk of a repeat of large-scale violence.
Verdict: Beautifully and confidently captured with Steadicam and drone footage, Les Misérables is visceral, authentic and affecting. 4.5 stars.
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