Multiculturalism, systemic racism, the lives of marginalized immigrants and police brutality formed the key themes in Ladj Ly’s gritty, kinetic feature debut Les Misérables. The grungy, impoverished, subaltern, graffiti-laced, and crime-filled outskirt Parisian commune of Montfermeil – Ly, whose parents were from Mali, grew up here, and referencing an episode from the Victor Hugo classic – which is packed with immigrant population of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, formed a pulsating entity. Set over the course of a day and a half, it portrayed the volatile relationship between the communities there with the neighbourhood’s anti-crime police patrol, comprising of the street smart but loutish squad leader Chris (Alexis Manenti, also one of the co-writers), his partner Gawda (Djebril Zonga, also of Malian descent like Ly), and the comparatively more conscientious Ruiz (Damien Bonnard), who’s just joined that unit. The simmering locale seems to be on the verge of erupting into gang violence courtesy the soft-spoken but mischievous young boy Issa (a scintillating Issa Perica). While trying to chase and catch Issa, the cops grievously wound him with a flash-ball; and, to make matters worse, the incident is captured on video by a shy, voyeuristic, drone-obsessed kid. The film – photographed with a striking sense of vérité and here-and-now, and oftentimes using spectacular overhead shots – may appear tad uneven at times, despite the ticking tension at all time. However, the two ends stood out for me – the throbbing opening montage portraying Paris as a multiethnic melting pot celebrating France’s 2018 football World Cup win and Mbappé as the face of its otherwise ghettoized and disdained immigrant populace; and the explosive, elaborate and intricately orchestrated final act ending, literarlly, in a Molotov Cocktail face-off.
Director: Ladj Ly
Genre: Drama/Police Procedural/Urban Drama/Crime Drama