Les Miserables is a French film about the powerful and the powerless. It takes place in the Paris suburb of Montfermeil. This was where part of Victor Hugo’s famous book Les Miserables takes place, which is where the movie gets its name from. The story focuses upon three police in the neighborhood who shoot a local kid. It is a very complex and deep story looking at the incident from all different perspectives. It makes for a very powerful and important movie.
The story begins with the myth of France. The French national team is playing in the World Cup in 2018 and all the local kids rally around the flag. Huge crowds are in the streets of Paris cheering the team on. That is the image France likes to portray of itself as a multinational society, but the truth is like any country where there are deep fissures based upon race, class, locations, etc., and that’s what the film focuses upon.
The movie begins by introducing the Montfermeil neighborhood and all the characters in it. There is Corporal Ruiz who just transferred into the area and his two compatriots that patrol the area. There are all the local kids whose families come from Africa and the Middle East who hang out in the parks and the apartments. There is the local mayor, the Muslim Brotherhood who police the neighborhood and try to keep the kids in line, there is a circus run by gypsies, and many others. Ruiz’s two fellow cops feel like they have to act tough with the locals because they see the neighborhood as poor and crime ridden. They don’t trust the people, and the people don’t trust them. As a result, the police are just about instilling fear in the community.
Into this milieu comes the incident. A kid named Issa steals a lion cub from the circus who threaten violence if they don’t get it back. Ruiz and his squad catch the kid but are attacked by his compatriots leading one of the police to shoot Issa with a flash bang gun. The incident is filmed by another boy with a drone and the squad goes after him next. The police, the mayor, a store owner who is a devout Muslim all get drawn in. The situation is explosive and works out in totally unexpected ways. It highlights all the different members of the community, and how they interact and clash with each other. In the end, it’s the youth that have the last word. They are the most vulnerable ignored by the adults and harassed by the police. They have no voice, but they are going to be heard this time.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. It resonates across countries and cultures and could have happened in any big urban area from England to America to Brazil or any number of other places.