Ladj Ly’s contemporary rendition of a classic premieres at the Cannes festival
The second day at Cannes was ushered in by a gut-wrenching and unnerving debut film. Victor Hugo’s timeless classic about the humiliation of the dispossessed and the marginalised gets a kinetic and potent contemporary rendition in Ladj Ly’s Palme d’Or contender Les Miserables.
It kicks off, ironically, with the last World Cup, with images of joy and togetherness that only a good game of football can bring. When people across all divides unite under the French flag and become one in their fandom of Mbappe.
Layers of discontent
The layers of disturbance and discontent begin to reveal themselves as we go with the crime patrol unit of three police officers into the tough suburbs where gangs are battling each other. The ideals of liberty, fraternity and egalitarianism begin to unravel.
Its a strife-torn, strained world. The religious, class and colour divides show up, as do the concomitant problems, the everyday harassment and humiliation and the persistent breach of privacy.
The constantly on-the-move camera lends a thrilling edge to the telling even while becoming one with the essential unrest lurking everywhere and the perpetually simmering rebellion and resentment against the privileged and the powerful, specially the fascist might of the State.
Mr. Ly fleshes out even the most minute of characters. In taking the viewers through a day of patrolling and of police working the streets, Mr. Ly’s larger aim is to hold up a mirror to how things are on the edge, can escalate suddenly and run out of hand and how violence is so endemic to life on the margins that it can erupt with an unforeseen rage at the any provocation.
A relentlessly angry film that shows things unvarnished, Les Miserables is savage in the critique of both the society and the State. The film might be a comment on class and multiculturalism issues in France in particular, but the revenge of the underclass also shines a light on societies across the globe.
The second Palme D’Or screening of the day — Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Brazilian film Bacurau — proved to be as trenchant a critique, in this instance of the politics and politicians of its own country. A young girl returns to her small town for her grandmother’s funeral. Here, water needs to be delivered by truck and the only reassurance for getting a regular supply is given when the local politician comes canvassing for votes for a second term. Perhaps only to forget them again on getting his seat. A situation that would seem alarmingly familiar even in India.
Starting off wonderfully as an improvised Western with a distinct rootedness, the film’s tone shifts sharply in the middle to the bizarre. A puzzling, confounding yet enigmatic film.
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