In one of the most competitive years for French movies, “Les Miserables” beat out Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” the 18th-century-set romance which won best screenplay at Cannes. Also falling short was Alice Winocour’s “Proxima,” which opened at Toronto in the competitive Platform section and received an honorable mention. The film stars Eva Green as an astronaut preparing for a mission that will separate her from her young daughter.
“Les Miserables,” which was bought by Amazon for the U.S., earned stellar reviews at Cannes, including in Variety, whose review said the film “simmers with urgent anger over police brutality” and compared Ly’s work to that of Spike Lee.
The movie just had its North American premiere at Toronto and will next play on the opening night of Colcoa, the French film festival in Los Angeles, on Sept. 23.
“Les Miserables” is inspired by the 2005 French riots, a three-week period of civil unrest characterized by violence, looting and car burnings. The film examines the tensions between neighborhood residents and police that helped inflame the rioting. It centers on Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), who has recently joined the anti-crime brigade in Montfermeil, and his two partners (Alexis Manenti and Djibril Zonga). The men find themselves overrun during the course of an arrest.
Sold around the world by Wild Bunch, “Les Miserables” is Ly’s feature debut and is based on his 2017 award-winning short film by the same name. The helmer, has a background in documentary filmmaking, is a native of Montfermeil, a suburb of France best known as the location of Thénardiers’ inn in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “Les Misérables.”
Giordano Gederlini and Alexis Manenti co-wrote the film alongside Ly, with Toufik Ayadi and Christophe Barral of SRAB films producing.
France’s Oscar committee this year comprised producers Rosalie Varda and Jean Bréhat, sales agents Agathe Valentin and Muriel Sauzay, directors Danièle Thompson and Pierre Salvadori, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux, Unifrance president Serge Toubiana, and Cesar Awards president Alain Terzian.
Winner of Berlin’s Silver Bear Award, Francois Ozon’s timely sex abuse drama “By The Grace of God” was surprisingly left out by France’s Oscar committee which opted to shortlist “Proxima” instead. “By The Grace of God” earned near-unanimous stellar reviews in Berlin and was acquired by Music Box which will do a limited release in the U.S. starting in Oct. 18.