Stéphane has recently joined the anti-crime brigade in Montfermeil, in the Paris suburbs. Alongside his new colleagues Chris and Gwada – both experienced members of the team – he quickly discovers tensions running high between neighbourhood gangs. When they find themselves overrun during the course of an arrest, a drone captures their every movement, their every action …

Director's Statement

In 1862, Victor Hugo sets the story of his book "Les Miserables" at Montfermeil, near Paris. Here, in this small village away from Paris, stands the Thenardier’s joint.

In October 2005, after the death of two teenagers, a series of riots ignited Montfermeil. Scenes of violence, young men wearing hoodies, throwing Molotov cocktails towards an overwhelmed police was all over the television news. To my knowledge, no one ever made the connection between the 1862 Gavroche dying at the barricades of Saint-Denis street and those kids, struggling with law enforcement.

It would be hazardous to heroise or blame anyone here. It would be too easy. This story has nothing to do with Hugo’s novel per se. The aim has never been to adapt "Les Misrables" to modern times, but to enhance the thin line that connects all characters, habits and virtues of people looking for greatness, stories of several fates linked together.

Following the 2005 events, I decided to record and film my city Clichy-Montfermeil for a year. From this footage emerged a film, 365 DAYS IN CLICHY-MONTFERMEIL, which gave me the idea of a short, then a feature film.

As a matter of fact, the documentary does not try to determine who’s the "good guy" and who’s the "bad guy". The characters often transcend their function. And it’s from this matter that I want to draw the story of my LES MISERABLES. I do not intend to scratch my story to reality but to create from the clay of reality a mythology, faces that can only be found in real life.

The characters are inspired by encounters I had, friends, family that I filmed. The "microbes", cops, elders, mothers, employees are no strangers to me. They’re not some kind of fantasy or myth, these are people I know, intimately for some -real people before being real characters.

To dive into this story, as in the short, I needed a fresh perspective, someone to propelled with the audience in this neighbourhood. The eye that discovers inhabitants, faces, locations and systems. Stéphane is violently immersed in this harsh city he only heard about from news channels. He was asked to enforce the law but is it really possible here?

I also want to re-create the daily life of police officers to go beyond their function and to show that their intimate life is no different from those of the people they’re facing. They are a part of the "Republic’s proletarians", therefore abandoned. It is no question of absolving them, it is about not to oppose them to those they arrest.

The artistic direction and the general aesthetic of the film tends to stick closer to the reality of the city, at the frontier between fiction and documentary. For that reason I want to use a maximum of live-action shots , with the least digital addition possible. Thus, shoulder-shots, to emphasize the urgency and the tension that the characters are enduring.

These shoulder-shots are nevertheless counterbalanced with drone-shots, which will give the audience a height and a breathing in opposition to the violence of the ground. Those sequences are very important as it is through drone-shots that the police blunder, centre core of the dramatic intents of the plot, is revealed. These drones that cross the sky of the movie are a way of telling this new suburb. An area under constant surveillance. A place where images matter more than words. These drones, these videos recorded with smartphones, this flow of images, looking like the backlash of a forgotten void. This "eye" in the sky, looking at us all. This same eye that may ignite the fire.

Director's Biography

Native from Montfermeil, Ladj Ly began his career with the collective Kourtrajmé. He also directed various making-of films. In 2016, he had directed the advertising "Marakani" in Mali for an NGO. Then he co-wrote the documentary 28 MILLIMETRES with the photographer JR. In 2007, Ladj made the documentary 365 DAYS IN CLICHY-MONTFERMEIL following the dramatic events that were the deaths of Zineb and Bouna. In 2017, he directed the short film LES MISERABLES nominated at the French César awards in 2018, as well as the documentary he co-directed with Etienne de Fraitas, A VOIX HAUTE. LES MISERABLES is his first feature film.

2016 - LES MISÉRABLES, short
2016 - A VOIX HAUTE, doc., co-directed with Stéphane de Freitas
2014/15 - MR BRAINWASH, web doc.
2013 - 365 JOURS AU MALI, doc
2006 - 28 MILLIMETRES: PORTRAIT D’UNE GÉNÉRATION, doc., co-directed with JR

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Ladj Ly

Written by: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti

Produced by: Christophe Barral, Toufik Ayadi

Cinematography: Julien Poupard

Editing: Flora Volpelière

Production Design: Karim Lagati

Costume Design: Marine Galliano

Make-Up & Hair: Sarah Pariset

Original Score: Pink Noise

Sound: Arnaud Lavaleix, Matthieu Autin, Jérôme Gonthier, Marco Casanova

Cast: Damien Bonnard (Stéphane), Alexis Manenti (Chris), Djebril Zonga (Gwada)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Discovery - Prix Fipresci 2019
  • European Film 2019
  • European Screenwriter 2019
  • Feature Film Selection 2019