×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Competition Director Ladj Ly: ‘We’ve Been Protesting These Conditions in Our Cities for 20 Years’

Director Ladj Ly never expected his first narrative feature, “Les Misérables,” to be selected for official competition at the Cannes Film Festival, but the filmmaker, whose mission is to capture the reality of the Paris suburbs, is understandably thrilled about the surprise.

“I thought maybe there was a small, small chance of getting into the Directors’ Fortnight, but the Competition — wow!” he says. The 39-year-old filmmaker was signed by CAA as the festival got off the ground Tuesday.

Anyone who thinks the story is a retelling of the Victor Hugo classic would be mistaken. But there’s a reason it shares the same title: Part of the book takes place in Montfermeil, the working-classic suburb where Ly grew up. “A century later, there’s still misery in this area,” Ly says. “Police violence remains a factor.”

Although getting “Les Misérables” into Competition represents a major jump forward in visibility, Ly has spent the past 22 years trying to bring attention to the conditions in areas such as Montfermeil. Now, with a sputtering economy and widespread protests in France, he thinks audiences might finally be ready to listen. Ly talked to Variety about his film just before arriving in Cannes for its premiere Wednesday.

“Les Misérables,” about three members of an anti-crime brigade who confront tensions between neighborhood gangs, started out as a Cesar-winning short film. It was inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris, incorporating several real-life moments, such as the drone footage capturing the events.

A fan of Spike Lee, Ly also admires French director Jacques Audiard and documentarian Raymond Depardon. Ly was inspired to become a filmmaker after seeing Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 “La Haine,” one of the first films to show the reality of suburban life in the housing projects.

He says it’s crucial that the people who have lived in those projects get to tell their own stories. “We need to speak out, to show what the suburbs are,” he says. But he’s frustrated by how few filmmakers of color are working in France.

“French cinema is very closed; it’s reserved for a certain elite. You can count the black filmmakers on one hand,” he says. “That’s why we started our film school.” Called Kourtrajmé, the same name as the filmmaking collective where he got his start, Ly says the free school will give anyone who wants to participate the chance to network and seize the opportunity to join the next generation of French storytellers.

Starting with shorts and documentaries including “Montfermeil Les Bosquets,” his films show an insider’s view of the working-class suburb where he grew up. When two youths were electrocuted during the riots, Ly redoubled his efforts to tell the neighborhood’s stories.

“Since the election of Macron, there’s more social problems. We’ve been protesting these conditions in our cities for 20 years, but nothing is happening. Before, people didn’t care because it was the suburbs, but now it touches everyone in France.”

More Film

  • paranormal-activity-1

    Paramount, Blumhouse Announce Seventh 'Paranormal Activity' Movie

    Paramount Pictures and Jason Blum’s Blumhouse are teaming on a seventh “Paranormal Activity” movie. Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos announced the untitled project Wednesday during the studio’s CineEurope presentation in Barcelona. Plot details are also under wraps. The franchise was launched with 2007’s “Paranormal Activity,” a micro-budget film about a young couple who had who moved [...]

  • Steve Buscemi

    Steve Buscemi Joins Judd Apatow's Upcoming Pete Davidson Comedy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Steve Buscemi, Kevin Corrigan, Domenick Lombardozzi and Mike Vecchione have rounded out the cast of Universal’s untitled Judd Apatow comedy starring Pete Davidson. Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow and Pamela Adlon had been previously announced. Apatow is directing from a script he co-wrote with Davidson and Dave Sirus. The film is a [...]

  • Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in

    Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' for Netflix

    Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman will star in the movie adaptation of the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for Netflix. George C. Wolfe (“Lackawanna Blues”) will direct from a script by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the award-winning play by August Wilson. Other cast include Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Michael Potts. Denzel [...]

  • Crazy Bitches

    Why the CASE Act Will Empower Creatives to Fight the Horrors of Piracy

    Our horror film, “Crazy Bitches,” was released on Valentine’s Day 2015. We invested in an online marketing campaign that resulted in two times the industry clickthrough rate and 2.6M social media impressions in the week leading up to the release. So, we had reason to expect a successful return. What we didn’t count on was [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse LA

    Alamo Drafthouse to Open in Downtown Los Angeles in July

    The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain is planning to open its first Los Angeles location with a “soft launch” in early July in the city’s downtown. The Texas-based chain, which has 38 locations, specializes food and drink service with unique programming. It announced Wednesday that the Los Angeles site, located at the Bloc, would offer an [...]

  • Max Landis Dropped by Manager Following

    Max Landis Dropped by Manager Following Sexual Assault Allegations

    Max Landis has been dropped as a client by his manager, a day after sexual assault allegations emerged against the  screenwriter. “I do not represent Max Landis,” Britton Rizzio at Writ Large Management told Variety in a statement. Landis is facing allegations of sexual abuse and psychological manipulation from eight women who told their stories [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content