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LES MISERABLES (USA/UK 2012)

An epic tale of love, romance, hope, injustice, and treachery – and 158 minutes of sheer misery.

Nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Hugh Jackman and Best Supporting Actor for Anne Hathaway, LES MISERABLES, premiered in Germany at this year’s Berlinale, has already scooped up 3 Golden Globes in the above categories.

Director Tom Hooper, who won an Academy Award for THE KING’S SPEECH, has adapted for the screen the famous stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel. The screen version contains no dialogue – everything is sung – which I must admit to having found somewhat tedious, as certain songs seemed to be reprised ad nauseum.

The main action begins in 1815 in Toulon, more than two decades after the French Revolution, where nothing much seems to have changed – at least for the People, still living in misery, filth and squalor. We may moan and bitch about living conditions today, but nobody – at least in the Western world – gets convicted to 5 years as a galley slave for nicking a loaf of bread, with an extra 14 years on top for trying to escape. This, however, is just what happens to Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). After 19 years, he is finally released on probation, which gives him little comfort, for merciless police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is determined to pursue him to the gates of hell. Valjean’s life changes dramatically, however, when he meets a priest, whose church he initially attempted to rob. The priest shows him kindness and mercy, and gives him the financial wherewithal to change his fate.

Thus eight years later, now a respectable citizen, he is owner of a textile factory and mayor of the small town Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he has taken refuge, assuming the new identity of M. Madeleine.

Meanwhile, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of his seamstresses, whose total wages go to support her illegitimate daughter Cosette, is mobbed by her co-workers, who insist she be fired. She pleads with M. Madeleine for help, but he has problems of his own. For Javert has suddenly reappeared, and seems to have recognised him. Fantine is flung onto the street where, after having sold her hair, her only option is prostitution. This is a particularly nasty sequence. She dies grimly. Madeleine aka Valjean offers his assistance too late, and can do little more than promise to care for Cosette.

Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) grows into a lovely young woman, “looked after”, if that is the expression, by the money-grubbing innkeeper and his wife, entertainingly played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, who provide some very welcome light relief whenever they appear. The “Master of the House” number, with its clever lyrics and interlining rhyme, is a classic.

Having finally taken her under his wing, the pair is forced to go underground to escape Javert’s relentless witch hunt, and they flee to Paris nine years later, where they get caught up in the street battles of June 1832. This likewise ends in tragedy, at least for the populace, although Cosette meets and falls in love with the young student activist Marius (Eddie Redmayne) – fortunately from the upper class. So all sort of ends well.

Astonishing vocal performances from all and sundry, together with great camera work (courtesy of DP Danny Cohen), marvellous production design, make up and costumes. An epic tale of love, romance, hope, injustice, and treachery – and 158 very long minutes of sheer misery, as its name implies. At an estimated budget of $61 mill., LES MIS has already grossed over $379 million worldwide since its US release last Christmas Day, and is yet to open in many major territories. Nevertheless, after leaving the movie theatre, I wanted to kill myself.

***

LES MISÉRABLES  (USA/UK 2012); Genre: Musical-drama; Running time: 158 mins; Distributor: Universal Pictures; Director: Tom Hooper; Writers/Screen adaptation: William Nicholson, Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer; Writers/stage musical: Boubil & Schönberg; based on the novel by Victor Hugo; Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg; Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen; Cinematographer: Danny Cohen; Release dates: 21. Feb (Germany); 25. December (USA)

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