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CANNES 2019 SPECIAL: Les Misérables, Atlantique,

By Rosslyn Hyams

In this Cinefile, RFi's Rosslyn Hyams looks at three films which premièred at the Cannes Film Festival, Les Misérables, Atlantique and My Brother's Wife.

Les Misérables

Ladj Ly’s police thiller has it all. An engaging plot, credible, just larger than life characters, pace and an athletic camera lens.

The joint-winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize shared his trophy with Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau, which, like Les Misérables, has a devastating and cruel social divide.

Ly’s Les Misérables remains rooted in the everyday but made of stuff of memorable films, it surprises and shocks.

A new police officer, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) joins a crime squad whose beat is a poor, tough and drug-infested housing estate. Stéphane immediately locks horns with rough, bossy and mouthy Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada who has grown up in the ‘hood (Djebril Zonga).

Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti and Djebril Zonga play police officers in 'Les Misérables' a film directed by Ladj Ly, co-winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, May 2019 © SRAB Films - Rectangle Productions - Lyly films

They have to find ways of dealing with all the local clans, from teenage girls to estate lords, to bored penniless pre-teen boys hungry for kicks, the religious gang and also, the outsiders and very muscular circus team.

Ly portraits these groups and some indiviuals, but refrains from judgment of people or characters. They are drawn from his real life experiences of growing up in a poor area. In Monfermeil, many families were originally from Africa, but their children, like Gwada the police officer, have grown up in France. The younger generation, Issa’s, were born in France.

Ly disproves the old saying that directors should neither work with children nor animals. On his first film no less, he takes the risk of working with both.

His own son plays Buzz, the all-important drone operator, and Issa is the wayward teen who attracts trouble like a magnet and cannot resist stealing an adorable lion cub. Only the lion cub belongs to the circus, and in particular one lion-tamer with massive biceps. The housing estate is a tinderbox. The theft sparks a war between the three local crime squad officers.

Director Ly can handle them all.

He and his crew turn the most ordinary and unattractive places into décors and real-life into cinema.

Ly has refreshed the European approach to social dramas with some strong character actors, and pumps excitement into French cinema.

Atlantique

Another prize winner at Cannes. Maty Diop’s debut feature won the Grand Prix. It’s set in Senegal and is based on a short film which was tied to the film festival. Atlantique explains why young men leave behind their loved ones and risk their lives on the sea. They hope of finding jobs for which they will be paid.

A young woman, Ada, is promised to a rich businessman. Her true love Suleiman is a construction worker, too poor for her family to consider him a suitable husband.

Mame Binta Sane as Ada in Maty Diop's Atlantique directed by Franco-Senegalese Maty Diop, who won the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2019 © Les films du bal

Diop pitches the natural playing style of young Senegalese actors against a story of the supernatural, with special, rather than visual effects. The green laser beams in a club, its mirrors and the moon were used to effective mysterious effect without adding the zombie eyes. Quite a teen film, in spite of the serious case of the effects.

Le femme de mon frère, My Brother’s Love

Anne-Elisabeth Bossé makes this Québecois rom-com with socio-political undertones, an agreeable watch. Bossé plays Sophia, the sister who feels ditched by life because she can’t get a job in spite of her PhD.. She then feels doubly ditched by her brother who falls in love with her own gynaecologist.

Bossé bounces her often hilariously sad lines off her wonderfully crazy '68er father (Sasson Gabai) and mother (Micheline Bernard) or off brother Karim (Patrick Hivon).

Director-screenwriter Monia Chokri’s constant stream of sometimes deeply satirical humour, seems made for the actress. Charming in many ways, love, couples and connections are at the heart of Canadian-Tunisian Chokri’s happy-ending, 30-somethings, debut feature.

Listen to the film directors Ladj Ly and Monia Chokri and film score composer Fatima Al Qadiri in the Cinefile podcast. Just click on the arrow in the photo.

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