"Les Miserables" on the other side of the ring


Wretched ****

from Ladj Ly

French film, 1 h 43, in competition

After the zombies of Jim Jarmusch (The Dead Do not Die), prestigious prologue for red carpet, which opened Tuesday, May 14 the 72e edition of the Cannes Film Festival, serious things started the day after with the discovery in competition of the first French film. Wretched, from Ladj Ly. What a slap! This decomposition, experienced from within, of a police burr at Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis) upsets conventional wisdom and literally plunges the viewer into the heart of the complexity of reality.

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Let the chronicle of a unit of the Bac. Three cops, commanded by Chris, a racist, sheriff quickly overwhelmed, assisted by Gwada, his deputy, more moderate, flanked by a novice coming from Cherbourg, nicknamed Pento. The commissioner (surprising Jeanne Balibar), before letting go with her peers, reminds that it will not cover any illegal act. She knows that Chris's methods flirt with the out-of-bounds.

A shifting form of social peace, outlawed

During his first patrol in the neighborhood, while driving, his colleagues make presentations to Pento, revealing the hidden face dominated by drugs, new branches of prostitution, arrangements of all kinds. Pento takes the measure of a situation that already exceeds it. Everybody here knows each other, evaluates his place in a secret hierarchy whose kids take over. Only initiates master the underground codes of the invisible allegiances. This shifting form of social peace, outlawed, evolves according to local power struggles. At this moment, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken the place of drug traffickers.

The first image of this social thriller is that of a young black man who comes down from his building, wrapped in a tricolor flag, and goes to join his friends to celebrate, in the same singing choir. The Marseillaise, the victory of the France team at the World Cup football. The director already lets us glimpse, behind this unitary fervor, the part of illusion of this collective joy.

The celebration of the 2018 World Cup victory on the Champs-Élysées / The Pact

Characters locked in their condition like caged lions

In this moving camera (a car, a bar of buildings, the neighborhood), the characters remain prisoners of their condition, like caged lions. The rage takes them, and all the excesses arise from provocations and frustrations. The spark of the explosion springs from an incident, subject of a misunderstanding, whose ridicule as violence is superbly staged.

This crazy episode (a lion cub stolen from a circus of gipsies) will degenerate into tragedy, filmed by a drone. For today, wild surveillance is widespread: the offenders display their feats of arms on social networks, and the uncontrollable capture of the images reveals the guilty actions of the police.

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Ladj Ly enters this powder keg (which he knows well, he was born there, he has always filmed it) with a sense of breathtaking rhythm, alternating episodes of strong tensions and comedy scenes. The violence of the repartee, which conveys connivance and roughness of relations, is tempered by a sharp humor, with dialogues where the words slam, in a register of well shaken language that does not lack poetry, in situations often burlesque. But looks are weapons.

A dramatic finding

The film also features a gallery of well-typed characters ("bacqueux", schoolboys trained the hard way, idle kids and privileged witnesses, fairground gypsies, Muslim brothers and caïds on which rests the general order). In addition to the extraordinary interpretation of all its actors, the trio of cops (Damien Bonnard, Djebril Didier Zonga and Alexis Manenti, also coscenarist) with secondary roles, the devastating power of this piece of work is also due to his lack of Manichaeism.

In urban wastelands, on the other side of the periphery, the cops are not better housed than the offenders they are supposed to pursue. Both, coming from the same social matrix, compete in a ritualistic but vain duel. The report is dramatic. Each reigns on its derisory end of territory. There is no way out, and the law is no more than an abstract entity without effect. This volcano is full of revolts to come.


From documentary to fiction

Ladj Ly, 39, native of Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis), son of immigrants from Mali, has been filming his native district since his adolescence.

1995. Found the Kourtrajmé collective.

1997. 28 millimeters, documentary with photographer JR.

2005. Filmed the riots.

2007. 365 days in Clichy-Montfermeil (documentary).

2014. 365 days in Mali (documentary).

2017. Wretched (short film), awarded at the Clermont-Ferrand festival, nominated for the Césars.

2018. Corealise with Stéphane de Freitas, the documentary Loudly, appointed to the Caesars.

2019. Wretched, first feature film of fiction, in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

(tagsToTranslate) cinema (t) Cannes Film Festival (t) film festival (t) film review (t) suburb (t) urban violence (t) police violence (t) Misérables (t) periphery (t) Cannes


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