LES MISÉRABLES gets 8/10 Policing the streets

Directed by Ladj Ly

Starring Damien Bonnard, Djibril Zonga, Alexis Manenti, Steve Tientcheu


No, this isn’t another film adaptation of the famous French novel. You may, however, sense some similarities between the 1862 classic and this thoroughly modern portrayal of the hostility between the police and the citizens of this French lower-class multicultural district. This Les Misérables is a docu-drama that gets a close, rough look at a wide array of differing perspectives from both sides of the law.

As conflicts effortlessly arise between the two, the film manages to uphold a tight tension by almost always alluding to terrible events that (most of the time) get narrowly avoided. The terrific opening scene brilliantly sets this mood, showing a street filled to the brim with people in a national sports-related victory, this joyous celebration brooding with an underlining darkness in the droning music and the abrupt intercutting to the credits.

It then cuts to our central character in this ensemble, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), working his first day on the street crime unit, alongside Gwada (Djibril Zonga) and Chris (Alexis Manenti), who are about to throw this rookie into the deep-end when they patrol the gruelling projects of Paris. Through caution at times and defiance at others, the trio navigate their way with the various people, groups, and families of this area and try to quell the many heated tensions that seem to arise daily. Stéphane may seem too bland of a character to be acting like a moral embodiment for the audience, but his rookie idealism is often contested by his two more seasoned cop partners.

Such closeness to such a terse situation becomes even more claustrophobic in the film’s final sequence, one of the most intense, destructive, and monstrously visceral moments from cinema since the prison riot in Australia’s own Stir. The standoff between citizens and the police reaches breaking point and the film assaults the viewers with the total roughness of how it portrays this fight.

Hopefully viewers don’t feel the film ends too abruptly, as it finishes at the precise, perfect time it encapsulates the tension between these two sides of the law and what responsibility they have for each other. With a devastating, but uncompromising authenticity, Les Misérables entirely succeeds in showing the lives of both cops and the citizens they (proclaim to) protect and serve.


Les Misérables plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, January 27 – Sunday, February 2, 8pm.

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