Les Misérables (film, 2012) – Beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?

Forget the post-Christmas blues – January is when glitter enters our lives! With the Golden Globes, BAFTA and Academy Awards coming up (as well as the Brit and Grammy Awards), one of places to be right now seems to be the cinema. I do not care whether the nominations were “totally predictable”: reading that golden list of Oscar nominations will always create in me a sense of anticipation, joy and curiosity. 

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables tells the epic tale of Jean Valjean, Javert, Fantine and Cosette and their struggles through misery during
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables the first half of the 19th Century in France. While it is based on the musical, the sense of an ensemble of singers on a stage almost completely disappears, giving it a much more intimate feel. This is partly due to the fact that we know most of their leading actors, and feel close to them. Moreover, the camera often closes up on the actors’ faces, bringing out their vulnerability – which of course cannot be done when this same vulnerability needs to be shown to the lady in the last row. This natural element creates a fine contrast with the ensemble’s military songs – Les Misérables’ signature pieces – during which we are more aware of the revolutionaries’ fears. To me, these were often the most welcome, as they brought the story forward and sometimes lifted the mood after long solitary musical sequences.

As I remember from a class I took a few years ago, acting through song is certainly not an easy task. One needs to maintain one’s sincerity, which can prove difficult because of the strength of the music notes. One needs to remember that a musical is not pop music. I can only imagine that having a camera in front of you does not make it any easier.

Anne Hathaway lit up the screen during her part of the tale – sadly, not for long enough. Fantine’s “I dreamed a dream” beautifully conveyed a broken soul in a broken body. The film showed a few humorous sequences thanks to Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen photographed by Annie LeibovitzBaron Cohen who played Cosette’s “adoptive” but uncaring parents and made a living off stealing from any guests that entered their hostel. Both of them fit perfectly into the genre as one could hardly notice they were singing. Bonham Carter never disappoints as a loud mouthed and opinionated woman. Russell Crowe was moving and absolutely convincing as a torn Javert, but unfortunately his voice was weak compared with his co-stars. This made it difficult to completely accept him as part of a musical ensemble. Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks were a pleasure to listen to and watch.

I have to say it: there are only so many times you can hear “Vive la France” slightly mispronounced and the Parisian Ile de la Cité looking like an animated film. But in the end, if after two and a half hours of slightly cheesy songs you still walk home repeating the lyrics and going over historical details, then this must mean that the film can appeal to more than just musical lovers.

1 Comment

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One response to “Les Misérables (film, 2012) – Beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?

  1. celia

    As the movie finally came out in France, I had the pleasure of watching it.
    I also was sometimes taken out of the movie by the “paris scenes”.
    I agree that Javert/ Russel Crowe voice wasn’t as smooth as the others actors, however I felt it fitted well with the character (strict, black and white).

    I also heard that this movie was filmed differently than most musical movies as the actors sang instead of lip syncing to a pre-recorded song. This new “strategy” heightened the emotional strength of the singing. What is your opinion?

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