wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)
Les Misérables, directed by Tom Hooper, is a musical in the true sense of the word; the characters sing their lines almost throughout the film. A rare theatrical experience for Indian audiences, the film has some compelling performances and is technically outstanding. While it tends to get indulgent often and isn’t the easiest film to watch, it does make for a unique big-screen experience.Read more
Tom Hooper’s grandiose vision brings Victor Hugo’s epic novel and the long-running stage production based on it to cinematic life; the film, however, is virtually owned by the performance of Hugh Jackman. Beautifully shot, with a complex narrative that is expertly edited and embellished with some truly outstanding performances, Les Misérables isn’t the easiest of films to watch, particularly for Indian audiences – more on this a little later. Still, the film has enough meat in it for the really keen to enjoy, if indulgent grandeur is your thing.
Set across nearly two decades in early 19th century France, the film is an epic tale of love, duty, honour and freedom; where men lock horns in battles of principle that last a lifetime. Jean Valjean is a thief who is serving time for stealing a loaf of bread. 19 years into his sentence, he is released on parole. An encounter with a Bishop sparks something in him that causes him to break parole and disappear.
Why I believe Indian audiences will find Les Misérables a hard film to digest is because there is almost no spoken dialogue – the characters converse by singing their lines almost throughout the film. A tough, applause-worthy task for the actors no doubt, but something that the audience here is just not exposed enough to, to appreciate fully. Add to that the fact that the film is undeniably on the indulgent side – it takes time to unfold, the characters sing long portions just to themselves, and the editing is frenetic, to keep pace with the musical narrative.
But there is reward to be found for those who can endure the gargantuan indulgence on display. The production design, costumes and make-up are absolutely top-notch; the streets of 19th century Paris come alive in every frame, which in themselves are works of photographic art. To add to that, I spent every five minutes marveling at the editing and the manner in which the entire film is put together. Some of the performances, then, are the icing on a rather large cake.
Hugh Jackman’s performance is, by far, the most striking thing about Les Misérables; even more than the production design, in my opinion. His eyes and his body language embody the complex character of Jean Valjean, whose journey the film essentially traces. It doesn’t hurt at all that he also sings beautifully. It took me a while to get used to Russell Crowe singing his lines as Inspector Javert, but once I did, both his character as well as his performance grew on me. Anne Hathaway in Spandex is an image that I was unable to shake out of my head prior to watching this film, but her performance as Fantine helped immensely in that regard; her role is small, but her performance is spellbinding. Amanda Seyfried looks gorgeous, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are goofy, but provide some much-needed comic relief.
Les Misérables, as I mentioned earlier, is not a film for everyone. It works better for people who can appreciate individual bits of filmmaking magic, than for people who want to get sucked into the whole experience of a film in totality. I’d still recommend it, because it isn’t often that films like this see a theatrical release in India. Besides, for the performances and technical magnificence alone, it is a film worth experiencing.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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