Les Misérables

Ladj Ly’s film is constructed like, and seemingly for, episodic television.

Its film precedents are obvious – La Haine, Training Day – moreso than the Hugo it evokes in title and script – but the clear nod is to David Simon and The Wire, and the film feels every bit built to stream. It’s a supercut with an deliberately premature iris fade, quickly layering in its cohorts (eg, SCU flics, urban squad bosses, Muslim Brotherhood, drugrunners and Roma/Gypsies proxying perhaps for Cirque Romanès in the mix) to prototype conflicts along religious, racial, generational, and tribal lines. It’s well-cast, and thematically rich, but it stops a bit short of cinema to world-build a pilot project for what would seem to be an obvious Amazon Studios seasonal.

The sense of place is rich – Ladj Ly has been iterating in Montfermeil for over many years, and introduced JR to the banlieue after the riots of 2005, where they’d collaborate on paste-ups and large scale installations, which JR documented in the 2015 short Les Bosquets. Ly himself did a quick 16 minute run at his feature in 2017, which one can still see for a couple weeks on MUBI.

Given the strength of the competition, especially Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, it’s a little surprising Les Misérables got both the Jury nod at Cannes and was the French designee for International Film category. Hopefully that means some production momentum to further evolve the project. I’d probably sign on to the series, even if most of the plotting and scenario is familiar – the US could use a crossover banlieue procedural to update still quaint notions of what 21c Paris is and may yet be.

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