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Film / Les Misérables (2019)

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Les Miserables is a 2019 film from France directed by Ladj Ly.

It is not, repeat not, an adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, although the title is a Shout-Out. Instead it is a modern-day story set in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, one of the main settings of Hugo's novel. (Jean Valjean meets Cosette there.) It's still a slum, a place where African Muslims live in shabby, crowded apartment buildings.

A cop, Stefane Ruiz, has moved to the area to be closer to his ex-wife and their son. He has been assigned to the SCU, a French police unit that seems to exist to terrorize and abuse the Muslim community. He spends one day on patrol with Chris (a white guy) and Gwada (himself from the French Muslim community), and that's enough to observe that Chris is a brutal, vicious thug and Gwada is mostly a passive observer of his partner's abuses.


The next day the cops find a disturbance outside the tenements. It seems that a boy from the community was spotted stealing a lion cub from a Romani circus. Chris scours social media and sure enough, discovers a boy named Issa, who looks about 12, showing off pictures of a lion cub. The three cops yank Issa off the playground, only for his friends to corner them in an alleyway where they start throwing garbage. Panicking, Gwada pulls the trigger on his flash-ball gun...and the round hits Issa in the face.



  • Black and Nerdy: Buzz, a young boy who lives in the tenement, wears thick glasses, is socially awkward, and is tech-savvy enough to fly a video drone around and download the videos he takes.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Played for tragic drama as Zorro the circus keeper dangles young Issa in front of a grown male lion.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The drone that Buzz is shown flying around in an early scene. It takes the incriminating video of Gwada shooting Issa.
  • Cowboy Cop: Chris is a thuggish variation of this, brutalizing and intimidating the locals when he isn't helping the local crime boss run his rackets. When Ruiz calls him out for acting like a cowboy, Chris says "You don't get it. It isn't an act."
  • Epigraph: The Mexican Standoff, Left Hanging ending fades to black, and the film ends with a quotation from Victor Hugo's book: "Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators."
  • Establishing Character Moment: If there were any doubt that Chris is a brutal thug, it's removed in the scene where he harasses some teenaged girls at a bus stop, sticking his hands inside the prettiest one's blouse and molesting her while supposedly searching her for marijuana.
  • Gay Paree: averted. Hard.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: None of the adult protoganists is either truly good or evil. All try to keep order, law and business in Montfermeuil, a powder keg fueled by poverty, violence and racism. The cops try to maintain the law but resort to intimidation and brutality to do so. The mayor and his goons seem to have good intentions and try to make the life easier for the locals but are ruthless and hungry for power. The carnies are assholes but are understanbly pissed about the stolen lion cub. Salah seems to be the most benevolent adult around, taking care of Buzz and dispensing Coran wisdom but he and his disciples are rather menacing and are implied to be religious extremists. In the end, all of them end up try to damage-control the police blunder for their own benefice at the expense of Issa.
  • Hood Film: or rather its french counterpart: 'Film de Banlieue'.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: The boys of the projects ambush the three cops, luring them into the apartment building then hurling mortars and garbage and other debris at them, while the police cower in a stairwell and call for backup.
  • I Am the Noun: Chris screams "I AM THE LAW!", when trying to get Salah and the other Muslims in the halal eatery to turn over the video card. It doesn't work.
  • Left Hanging: The film ends with Ruiz at the bottom of a stairwell, pointing a gun at Issa, who stands at the top of the stairs holding a lit Molotov cocktail. The film fades to black, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not Issa throws it.
  • Manly Tears: Gwada, who lives with his mom, comes home and breaks down in tears in their kitchen after the events of the traumatic day.
  • Mexican Standoff: The film ends with an unresolved one in which Ruiz is pointing a gun at Issa, who is holding a lit Molotov cocktail.
  • Molotov Cocktail: The cops are already in a pretty bad spot, trapped in a stairwell as the boys of the neighborhood hurl mortars and debris at them while the stairwell fills with smoke, but things get real serious when Issa appears at the top of the stairwell holding a lit Molotov cocktail.
  • Naïve Newcomer: A rather idealistic cop named Ruiz joins an SCU unit and soon discovers that his partners are thugs.
  • The Peeping Tom: Buzz the awkward nerd flies his drone around and takes videos of women in the tenements changing their clothes.
  • Pervy Patdown: Chris is firmly established as a bad guy when he harasses a teenaged girl at a bus stop, and sticks his hand down her shirt, supposedly to check if she's carrying marijuana but really to feel her up.
  • Police Brutality: Chris and Gwada, and especially Chris, are vicious brutes. Chris takes pleasure in tormenting the locals. Matters come to a head when Gwada shoots Issa in the face with a flash ball, and Chris, rather than get the boy medical help, goes on a hunt for the drone and the video card with the incriminating video.
  • Rated M for Manly: Hot-blooded men? Yes. Testosterone? Yes. Stuff blowing up? Yes. Violence? Yes. Women? Barely any.
  • Second Face Smoke: Chris blows smoke in the face of a teenaged girl in an obvious effort to intimidate her.
  • Shout-Out: The title of the film and the shout-outs to Victor Hugo are thematically appropriate, as the film is a tale of the poor and oppressed in the same slums where Hugo set his story.
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: Chris shoots his flash-ball gun in the air to break up a near-riot between the Mayor and his group who live in the apartment building and the angry Romani who want their lion cub back. It also serves as Foreshadowing as it demonstrates that the cops have that type of gun.
  • Spiteful Spit: Chris spits on the floor as the large crowd inside the eatery force him to leave without either Buzz or the video card.
  • Title Drop: In an early scene Chris tells Ruiz that a local school is named after Victor Hugo and that Hugo supposedly wrote Les Misérables in that neighborhood.
  • Your Mom: Part of the morning insult duel between cops at headquarters has one tell the other, "your wife's face broke the arm rest."

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