Les Misérables

THRILLER; 1hr 44min (French with subtitles)

STARRING: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga

Concrete jungle: Perica (middle)

The Paris of director Ladj Ly’s excoriating debut feature is in no sense the City of Lights and aspirational chic: it’s 2018, and the tinderbox streets of African and Muslim Montfermeil, where novelist Victor Hugo wrote his 1862 tale of woe, are patrolled by plainclothes police whose flip bravado is a badge of brotherhood in the face of prospective anarchy.


Ruiz (Bonnard) is a newcomer, fresh from the country and assigned to ride with 10-year Special Crimes Unit veterans Chris “Pink Pig” (Manenti) and Gwada (Zonga). On his first day, Ruiz has a lot to learn about alpha boss Chris’s swaggering mantra – “Never sorry, always right,” – when the theft of a Gypsy circus lion cub by a sassy young boy from the projects (Issa Perica) triggers a shooting that polarises the new team. Ruiz, who still has the luxury of being a fundamentally good man, is left disillusioned and disgusted by Chris and the resigned-to-it Gwada’s self-first priority. For them, this is another shady day in a desensitising slog that eats away at ethics.


Nobody wants more riots, but if Chris’s strong-arming preventative strategy is a potential flashpoint anyone can see coming, that’s an easy call to make from the safety of the cheap seats. Eroded by a daily grind, the lines have progressively blurred between the police and those they’re assigned to watch. Ly’s cloaking suspense is suffocating as factional tempers fray, with upfront, from-the-gut performances across the board. The inevitable mass eruption feels both timeless and acutely specific, one part Lord of the Flies, the other a headline news story everyone knows only too well.