Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Les Misérables '19

This is coming and going fast, huh? In and out of Kendall Square and Boston Common in a week, even though the latter suddenly had three extra screens to fill thanks to the Chinese New Year movies being pulled, and quickly down to two shows a day in the GoldScreen at the Coolidge after already starting in the Screening Room, despite actually picking up the Oscar nomination that a lot of foreign-film acquisitions like this are counting on to go wider. I know this seems to happen a lot with Amazon Studios movies, and I kind of wonder why this is, as even Netflix movies sometimes seem to hang around a bit more when they deign to put them in theaters. Is it just generally known that this is the only chance you'll get to see Netflix things on the big screen, while people know Amazon tries to play nice, so they get taken for granted?

At any rate, that made this matinee tight enough that I knew to buy my ticket the day before to get a seat in the 15-person room, which either got over-sold or had someone at the wrong show but unwilling to admit it. Fortunately, there's apparently a seat in the room that they don't sell (either because it's awful or for situations like this), so we all got to see the film. I will note that the usher called it "Les Miz" when asking us to check our tickets, and I kind of don't think you should shorten this movie's name that way. That's the musical, to the point where it seems odd when someone refers to that production by its full name, and not just because they're probably even less used to French pronunciation than I am.

Still, good movie, which probably has five shows left in the Coolidge's smallest room, but is still worth checking out even if it will likely be on prime a couple weeks after it leaves there

Les misérables

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2020 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre's GoldScreen (first-run, DCP)

Les Misérables, France's entry for Best International Feature in this year's Academy Awards, is absolutely something that many viewers will have seen before, even if many American viewers may be a bit surprised by Paris's demographics, but it plays out well. That this is what happens is somewhat inevitable, since you can't really make a movie about poor people and minorities not trusting the police actually be shocking in this day and age; even a fiction filmmaker can just document or speculate upon the mechanisms by which the situation sustains itself or breaks down, hoping to make something that speaks to those who already understand and attracts the attention of those who might be persuaded.

So, the meat of the film starts with a familiar situation: Stéphane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard) is a cop who has just transferred to Paris to be close to his son, and on his first day is assigned to ride with Chris (Alexis Manenti), the unit commander who embraces the nickname "Pink Pig", and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), Chris's more laid-back partner who actually doesn't stick out like a sore thumb in a district where much of the population is poor, black, and/or Muslim. It is expected to by a quiet day - at 35 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit), people aren't inclined to come out and start trouble - and is, more or less, until members of a traveling circus start raising hell at a local market, claiming their lion cub was stolen. Issa (Issa Perica), a kid known for finding his way into trouble, is the one who was dumb enough to post about it on social media, and things get more explosive when another kid about the same age, Buzz (Al-Hassan Ly), is flying a drone when Chris's team chases Issa down.

First, though, Filmmaker Ladj Ly shows us people gathering in the center of town, following the World Cup as France makes an unexpectedly deep run, kids wearing the French tricolor as a cape and all cheering together. It's a scene where nothing particularly happens, but it's useful for setting the scene, reminding audiences who might not be aware just how many people of color live in and around Paris and even, specifically, how many of the athletes whose names people are shouting have commented that they are French when they win and African when they lose. I'm anxious for a second viewing to see just how many characters from later in the movie show up here so that Ly can show the ideal Paris, even as it is quickly revealed to be an illusion.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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