(Release Info UK schedule; May 31st, 2020, The Gulbenkian Theatre, Gulbenkian, University of Kent, Candterbury CT2 7NB, United Kingdom, 4:15 pm)
Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) has recently joined 'The Anti-Crime Squad' in Montfermeil, in the suburbs of Paris, where Victor Hugo set his famed novel 'Les Misérables'. It's one of the most sensitive districts on the outskirts of the city. He finds himself thrown into a community rife with tension and nearing a breaking point. Alongside his new colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), both experienced members of the team, he quickly discovers tensions are running high between local gangs. He soon sees the neighborhood’s fiery routine, the unorthodox methods his partners use to cope with.criminals, the gangs, and the rivalries between them. When the partners join an arrest gone awry, they find themselves in the midst of a full-blown battle between the police force and raging citizens; the result of years of tension. An act of spontaneous violence at the hands of one of Stéphane’s colleagues pushes them deep into the fractured realities of the neighborhood and immigrant communities they're meant to protect. A drone captures the encounter, threatening to expose the reality of everyday life.
The title refers to Victor Hugo, and the film begins with French fags during the night following 'The World Cup' victory. It’s a pity there's no other bond for the people but at the same time, those are incredible moments to experience. The film starts with this, before shifting back to the bleaker reality of daily life, where each person lives their lives according to skin colour, religion, social class. The first forty minutes of the film is a calm immersion into the neighborhood. It’s like you’re strolling along, familiarising yourselves with the characters and the fabric of the neighborhood. Indeed, the music is more electro than hip-hop. Even the way they speak, they predictable suburb-film clichés. Between Chris, a white racist cop, and ‘The Mayor’, a black neighborhood figure, things are also complex; they hate each other but have little arrangements because they need each other. The Chris character is a real asshole. He’s really good in this part, and despite his hateful side, the audience still grows attached to him. The cops are often obliged to make compromises with the residents, or else it would be permanent war. Most of these cops aren’t well-educated, they themselves live in diffcult conditions, and in the same neighborhood.
It seems everything happens against a backdrop of unemployment and poverty; the root of all the problems. It’s easy to live with each other when you've money. When you don’t, it’s a lot more complicated, you need compromises, arrangements, little deals, it’s a matter of survival. For the cops too, they're in survival mode, things are tough for them too. "Les Misérables" is neither pro-low life nor pro-cops. It's more a departure then an arrival. Everything is based on actual events, the jubilation of 'The World Cup' victory of course, the arrival of the new cop in the neighborhood, the drone, even the stolen lion and the gypsies. The film tends to view all the protagonists without preconceptions or judgements, because reality is always complex. There's bad and good on both sides. We operate in such a complex world that it’s diffcult to make quick and defnitive judgments. The neighborhoods are powder kegs, there are clans, and despite all this we all try to live together and to avoid everything spinning out of control. The daily accommodations everyone makes to get by. There's still hope in the suburbs, despite all the problems, that the people of these neighborhoods have talent and don’t always fit with the clichés they’re labelled with. It's an incredible diversity of these neighborhoods.
"Les Misérables" is based on the web documentaries '365 Days In Clichy-Montfermeil' and '365 Days In Mali'. These documentaries were shot during the 2005 riots. All 'Kourtrajmé' films are available for free on the Internet, before 'YouTube' or 'Dailymotion'. Mali has become the most dangerous place on earth because of 'Al Qaïda' and the so-called 'Islamic State'. We've similar principles with 'Go Fast Connection' and 'A Voix Haute'. 'Go Fast' is a docu-fiction made three years after the riots, about the subject of the media’s treatment of the suburbs. A 'Voix Haute' is initially an indie project that 'France Television' eventually joined. The film, which won 'The Grand Jury Prize' at Cannes 2019, is an extraordinarily suspenseful and captivating drama. Inspired by the 2005 Paris riots the film is a thrilling and provocative insight into the tensions between neighborhood residents and police in contemporary France. How could the politicians ever be able to bring solve our problems when they don’t actually know us or how we live? Another reality shown in the film, which contrasts with the usual clichés, is the depiction of ethnicities. People from everywhere hanging out together. The film avoids video-promo editing, the stereotypical hip-hop music. It's important to let the narrative and the shots speak for themselves.
"Les Misérables" is a humanist, political film, in the sense that you don’t judge individuals but implicitly denounce a system in which everyone ends up being a victim, residents and cops alike. Responsibility falls to the politicians. You could almost say things are going from bad to worse. Despite everything, we’ve all learned to live together in these neighborhoods; with 30 different nationalities living side to side. Life in the suburbs is light years away from what the media shows you. The film is far from an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, but it carries the same social critique of French society’s attitude toward it's marginalized citizens. Provocatively drawing a line between Hugo’s classic and the country’s contemporary realities, it's a thrillingly timely look at the crippling tensions at the core of modern France. We're young and crazy. Today we might be a little less crazy, but you always have to keep a bit of madness. We don’t want to be stuck inside a box, which is unfortunately sometimes the case in the world of cinema.