Elaine Forrestal and Jan Nicholls at the 21st Birthday Celebration for Someone Like Me
I am a great believer in the open ending, but it must have an ending shape to it and provide enough food for thought to make the story a satisfying read, or experience. The new French film, Les Miserable, (Victor Hugo’s classic story transplanted into a crowded modern suburb of Paris) is a fine example.
The film is cleverly and perceptively made in spite of the multiple scenes of extremely graphic violence. A teenage boy steals a lion cub from a visiting circus in an attempt to extort money from the circus owner. This sort of blackmail is a way of life in the boy’s environment where people survive by their wits or not at all. In spite of all its fast paced action the film is made with subtlety and deep emotion. To set the scene we are shown a boy attending a soccer match. As he pushes through the noisy colourful crowd of people wearing or carrying various versions of the French flag we catch a glimpse of the back of a single person wearing a plain black shirt with the word ‘france’, in white letters. There is no need for dialogue. This scene, with the mostly obscured Eiffel Tower in the background, has confirmed our impression that the match is being held in Paris. The subtlety of that one unspoken word has signalled that there will be more to this film than what appears on the surface.
A scene where the boy and the cub are arrested and brought into the circus ring where the roaring mother lion can see and smell her missing cub is loaded with symbolism about power and disadvantage. A later scene shows four of the local cops outnumbered and attacked by gangs of kids. Their car is wrecked and the boy is shot. This is milked for all its drama, then turned on its head when one of the cops ignores the threat to his own life and carries the injured boy to safety. A drone flies overhead, recording the whole mess, and adding another potential means of extortion. Will that be used and if so, by whom? Then there is the eye-for-an-eye scene. And finally the riot in one of the seedy apartment blocks echos of the familiar barricade scene in the original Victor Hugo novel. The four cops are cornered by the mob and the boy stands alone, holding a naked flame, ready to set the whole lot on fire. The boy now holds all the power. The ending, which I won’t reveal because you should see this movie for yourself, is so thought-provoking that there was not a sound from the audience and no one moved from their seat for several minutes. We all just sat there processing what we had seen.
The more I have thought about it the more convinced I am that this movie could not have ended any other way.