Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Photo from Wikimedia.
SPOILER ALERT! Do not read this review if you haven't seen the film.

A lengthy, complicated, heart-fiddling musicale of repentance, redemption, revenge, and romance, set against the backdrop of a post-French Revolution rebellion in the streets of Paris. This is my attempt at encapsulating the essence of Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" which I saw yesterday.

I haven't cried this much for a film since Disney-Pixar's "Up" back in 2009 (and it was only during the first 8 minutes). From beginning to end, my eyes felt wet on the lids and I was gushing down streams at around the part leading to the June Rebellion. I don't know if it was the film and its effective storytelling, powerful acting, and dynamic cast that made me cry, or maybe I just found a lot of personal implications in it.

I can relate the most to Hugh Jackman's character, Jean Valjean, whose life of poverty, hardship, and constant runaway from the law is somehow reminiscent of our own puny lives. Everyday, we run the race of life alone, our existence shackled by empty stomachs and sins of the past. Valjean is one person who vowed not to be shackled by his circumstances in life. With his new-found strength in God and the compassion shown to him by people he met along the way, he put redemption in his hands and became a factory owner and mayor of a little French town.

His redemption became ever more complete when he decided to reveal his true identity, as the ex-convict who broke parole and assumed a different name, as well as during the time he saved Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway) from her own quagmire. Fueled by his promise to Fantine, his mission becomes even more meaningful as he searches for the latter's illegitimate daughter Cosette (played by Amanda Seyfried), and vows to raise her as his own daughter. He does this while evading the path of Javert (played by Russell Crowe), a French prison guard fixated on his moral and lawful duty of bringing the criminal Valjean to justice.

But in our own state of grace, we become selfish as well. Hence, Valjean tries his best to elude Javert who threatens to cut short his state of grace--his new found life with Cosette. This selfishness is also reflected in his reluctance for the blossoming romance between her daughter and Marius Pontmercy (played by Eddie Redmayne). All of us share Valjean's struggle between choosing humanity and self-preservation. In the end, he committed the primal example for all of us to follow: sacrifice our own pleasures out of love for our fellow human beings, which he does so by saving Marius from the barricades and setting the Javert free when he was captured and held hostage by the June rebels for spying among their ranks. At the end of life, when his happiness all seemed over, he asks God to take him away and he sees Fantine's spirit leading him to Parisian heaven together with the June rebels.

Photo from Broadway.com
The most captivating exercise of self-sacrifice, however, was that of Eponine (played by Samantha Barks), the urchin daughter of the Thenardiers who enslaved the young Cosette prior to her rescue by Valjean. Blindly in love with Marius, she does everything for him including locating the whereabouts of Cosette and Valjean, as well as preventing the Thenardiers from committing robbery at their home. Her biggest sacrifice though is when she disguised herself as a man, hoping to die with Marius at the barricades during the June rebellion. Her love, no matter how tinged with envy for Cosette, is pure and chaste, wishing only the survival of Marius, a love which she powerfully expressed in "On My Own" and on her dying breath at the barricades. Admittedly, these scenes are where I cried the most, finding parallels of my own blind faith in a romance that was long gone.

Russell Crowe surprised everyone with his ability to deliver lines in song for his role as Javert. Anchored on his moral and legal duty as an inspector, he vows to hunt down Valjean to the very end, only relenting when the latter shows him an act of compassion by sparing his life. With the loss of his "moral axis", the very compass that directed his life, he ultimately commits suicide at the end of the film. Anne Hathaway is just as superb, with her fitting portrayal of a mother-turned-prostitute who succumbs to consumption and longs for the company of her lost daughter at the very edge of her life. She has every right to diss Ricky Lo with such fantastic acting and grace.

The destitute lives of the plebeians of Paris during the June revolution are set into motion by a superb ensemble which includes Aaron Tveit, George Blagden, Killian Donnelly, and Fra Fee. Amidst the sentimentality of revolution, poverty, and romance, there are genuine moments of laughter through the antics of the swindling Thenardier couple played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen (who I mistook for Javier Bardem). Every character, even the child actors who played Gavroche and the young Cosette, pulls the right strings and pushes the right buttons with their excellent delivery, resulting in complete awestruck and delight if not buckets of tears. The cast definitely deserves the title of Best Ensemble/Cast for a musical.

In the end, "Les Miserables" sets the bar higher for a musical film; a bar previously held by equally magnificent films such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Mama Mia". If you are into films with a lot drama, meaning, and purpose, rolled into a musical wrap, this is a film worth watching. You will surely find parallels in every character and their miserable but redeemed lives. TSS

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