Set in the Parisian neighborhood of Montfermeil, the region where Victor Hugo set his epic novel, Les Misérables explores the origins of crime, resentment, and violence. The movie, which hews close to documentary, follows two local cops (Alexis Manenti and Djibril Zonga) as they introduce recruit Stéphan (Damien Bonnard) to their beat: A temporary and tenuous stalemate between the Muslim Brotherhood, African refugees, and a traveling band of gypsies. A lion cub is stolen from the latter, and it’s up to the police to find him before that stalemate goes to hell in a handbasket. The cub is found, but so are violence and mistakes. As a quote from Hugo’s novel closes the film — “There are no such things as bad plants or bad men. Only bad cultivators.” — writer/director Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables explicitly shows how violence is cyclical, and a general lack of compassion can lead to violence beyond containment or passion. The movie opens with a French victory at the World Cup. A sea of people packs the Champs-Élysées waving flags, screaming and jumping for joy under the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. Today they are happy; they are unified in victory. What will tomorrow bring?

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