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Les Misérables

(France) The setting is Montfermeil, a relatively poor, multiethnic neighborhood in Paris. Stephane is a new corporal who is patrolling the streets with Chris and Gwada, two regular patrollers who have a reputation for using their power in unglorifying ways to maintain control over the streets. They find themselves in a tough situation when an encounter with a child that goes wrong is filmed with a drone by one of the neighborhood children. This is a really intense and powerful exploration of the tensions in a neighborhood controlled by various power structures, each with their own motives and objectives, that influence the livelihood of the city. The camera work gives the film the feel of a documentary; I did some reading and see that it is based on the riots that happened in this neighborhood in 2005. The intensity of the topic and edge-of-your-seat suspense makes the film difficult to watch at times; it always feels like the neighborhood is going to explode at any moment as the tensions among the various operatives simmer and crackle.  The acting is terrific. The actors playing the patrolmen create three distinctly different men who react very differently to the jobs they are doing and to the situation in which they find themselves; it is a small study of human nature. The actors playing the kids also are great and give a sense of reality and vitality to life behind the walls of the homes and restaurants. What happens at the end is shocking, but how the screenplay brings the viewer to that conclusion is well-thought and executed. Big thumbs up for a film that has a lot to say about contemporary relations defined by race and social class and about what divides us and brings us together.  The film reflects a brilliant and unique vision by its director. It’s jury prize win at Cannes is well earned. (2019; 4 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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