Before the start of the Cannes film Festival, his name did not say much to many people. Yet, the film Ladj Ly Les Misérables was one of the first good surprises of this 72nd edition. In the official competition, the film director has been awarded the jury prize, ex aequo with Bacurau , of the brazilian Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. His film of the suburb sets the scene without attitude, or prejudice, the suburb of Montfermeil, in Seine-Saint-Denis, where he was born and continues to live.
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He has 38 years old, but has been working in film for the past fifteen years. At the age of 15 years, in 1995, he set up the collective Kourtrajmé (“short film” in backslang) with Romain Gavras, son of Costa-Gavras, Kim Chapiron and Toumani Sangaré. At 17, he grabs the one of the first digital cameras, and never let go. He filmed everything, his district, the filming of friends who make short films. He specializes in the literature ( 365 days in Clichy-Montfermeil ) and has to come down from his home in the suburb of Groves, to film the riots of 2005.
But it is the dark side of the neighborhoods that made his name in 2008. One day, he filmed a burr which inspired him to make a short film, Les Misérables , named for the Césars. He decided to make a feature film, it has been difficult to finance and that it will run with few resources (1.4 million). He had especially wanted to talk about childhood, what it means to be growing up in this universe. “Everything is inspired by stories that have happened to me or friends.” No drug smuggling, go-fast and caricature of the “mob-mentality”. All from a kid who steals a lion cub in a circus.
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“Les Misérables, as well the inhabitants of the neighbourhoods to the police. This world of misery is for everyone. I know it by heart the police. I can put myself in their place – ”
In Ladj Ly, there is not a side of nice young people of the suburbs, and the other of the wicked police officers. A new cop arrives in Cherbourg. With his two colleagues in office for the last ten years, the current goes wrong. Their methods of work do not stick with the experience of the one they call Pento. The trio circulates in the unmarked car, takes his information with merchants or traffickers that they know on the fingertips. Clans clash, a guy tries to make the market act and the muslim brotherhood are there to show the younger people the right way.
“The tea was at the end of my street. I only had to get off at me to turn. I hired 200 people from the neighborhood. Les Misérables , as well the inhabitants of the districts as the police. This world of misery is for everyone. I know it by heart the police. I can put myself in their place. There is empathy in my gaze. It’s like everywhere: a minority of police officers behaving badly and hurts his work, and there are a minority of offenders but we only speak of them”, confided Ladj Ly at the end of the first projection.
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Les Misérables is not Hate , a film anti-cop” by Mathieu Kassovitz, prix de la mise en scene at Cannes in 1995. This way of filming the suburbs is reminiscent of Training Day , with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, a duo of cops in a hot area of Los Angeles. A influence claimed, as is Detroit , Kathryn Bigelow, and The Wire , the cult series from David Simon about the cities of Baltimore. A series of a pessimism terrible, just as the end of les Misérables , open, and bleak. “This is a warning, justifies Ladj Ly. This makes twenty years that one is “yellow vests”, that it suffers violence from the police. It is said be careful, it may explode. To be in Cannes, it is a great pride and it is especially the opportunity for the world to see the film. It is universal.” To pass on a message, Cannes is a channel efficient.