02 September 2020, The Tablet

Adults behaving badly

by Isabelle Grey


Adults behaving badly

Les Misérables
Director: Ladj ly

There are many different interest groups staking out territory in present day Montfermeil, the Parisian suburb where Victor Hugo set his 1862 novel, Les Misérables: drug-dealing gangs, devout Muslims, the local mayor and his acolytes chiselling a profit out of market traders, volatile circus people, the police and – overlooked by all these adults – kids.

Writer-director Ladj Ly grew up in this neighbourhood and has been filming it since he was 17. Les Misérables (in French with subtitles), his debut as a feature director, Oscar-nominated and winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, is a hymn to childhood and a condemnation of all the various “bad cultivators” (a quote from Hugo’s novel that closes the film) who betray the young – and who get their comeuppance.

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