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‘Les Misérables’ Trailer: Paris Is Burning in France’s 2020 Oscar Entry

French-Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly's insurgent drama earned the Jury Prize at Cannes this past May.

"Les Misérables"

Ladj Ly’s politically-charged feature debut, “Les Misérables,” is inspired by the filmmaker’s own experiences as the son of a Malian immigrant. Ly grew up in the harshness of the banlieues, in a commune east of Paris, called Montfermeil. His Montfermeil isn’t all that different from Victor Hugo’s, whose 1862 novel is a source of inspiration. It remains grim, comprised of poor and disenfranchised people — primarily African immigrants — who often clash with the authorities. The filmmaker set out to capture the realities of that world, in an effort to both counter incomplete narratives, and to inspire revolution. At the center of “Les Misérables” are three members of an anti-crime brigade who are overrun by youth while trying to make an arrest. When a drone captures the encounter, it threatens to expose the truths of everyday life in the community. It’s a film with roots that stretch back to Ly’s activist teenage years, inspired by the violent 2005 Paris riots, which involved youth of African descent, in a three-week uprising stoked by increased unemployment, poor housing conditions, and routine harassment at the hands of the police.

SRAB Films/Rectangle Productions/Lyly films

Amazon Studios has released a blistering first trailer for French-Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly’s politically-charged feature debut, “Les Misérables,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, and was selected by France’s Oscar committee as the country’s submission to the Best International Feature Film competition.

Based on his powerful, 2017 César-nominated short film of the same name about what happens when power ends up in the hands of people who don’t know how to control it, “Les Misérables” is inspired by the violent 2005 Paris riots, which primarily involved youth of African descent. The three-week uprising was rooted in increased unemployment among the youth, who were mostly confined to poor housing estates, and the harassment they routinely experienced at the hands of the police. At the center of the film are three members of an anti-crime brigade who are overrun while trying to make an arrest, when a drone captures the encounter, threatening to expose the reality of everyday life.

Starring Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, and Djibril Zonga, Amazon Studios will release the film on January 10, 2020, after closing one of the biggest domestic deals ever for a French-language movie last May.

The film beat out two other frontrunners for France’s Oscar submission — Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait” and Alice Winocour’s “Proxima.” However, “Les Misérables” was likely seen as the timeliest of the trio, grounded in the realities of the country’s current socio-political climate; France, and Europe as a whole, continues to struggle with a migrant crisis rippling throughout its society. And while much was made about the country’s decision to submit the film over Sciamma’s ravishing lesbian romance, the decision by the committee is a historical one, as it marks the first time that France has chosen a film from a black filmmaker to represent the country at the Academy Awards.

“Les Misérables” earned mostly positive reviews at Cannes. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich’s wrote that it was “a gripping and grounded procedural that probes the tensions between Paris’ anti-crime police and the poor Muslim population they torment and suppress.” Ly, also an actor, was signed by CAA during the Cannes Film Festival.

Check out the first trailer for Ly’s deeply personal and timely “Les Misérables.”

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