Review: Les Indésirables
- With his new restless and chaotic film, Ladj Ly continues to tell the story of the Paris banlieue between political corruption and latent tensions that result in conflict
Already from its international title and its cast (Alexis Manenti, Steve Tientcheu, Jeanne Balibar), Les Indésirables [+see also:
interview: Ladj Ly and Giordano Gederl…
film profile], which premiered in Toronto and subsequently at the BFI London Film Festival, announces itself as a sort of sequel to Ladj Ly’s previous film, which had won the Jury Prize at Cannes 2019, Les Misérables [+see also:
interview: Ladj Ly
film profile]. But while in the latter, the Parisian banlieue rebelled against police violence and unfair laws in the footsteps of the characters of Victor Hugo’s classic novel from which it got its title, in Les Indésirables, Ladj Ly changes tone and takes to the extreme a style already quite paroxysmal in itself, sometimes resulting in unintentional parody.
This begins with the long aerial take on building number 5 (this is the film’s original French title: Bâtiment 5) that encompasses within one sequence the confined universe in which the characters evolve, a strip of the Parisian periphery called Les Bosquets. It’s in this neighbourhood that a sheriff mayor (Alexis Manenti) is building his political campaign upon fear and racism, with a securitarian attitude that has now become the political banner of most European government institutions. If Les Indésirables’s intentions of denunciation are good, its direction is less so. In addition to its formal problems, which reflect the spirit of the time, always looking towards the urgency of things, the limits of the film are also in the writing, which denotes a desire to put too much meat on the fire – literally – without managing to focus on the most important aspects of the narrative. The political struggle is in fact present in a too didactic fashion, almost parodic, for a film with such marked realistic ambitions. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences that mark the regression of Ladj Ly’s cinema, compared to the successful Les Misérables, which instead conveyed the sense of social revolt and imminent explosion of the Parisian suburbs.
In the case of Les Indésirables, we witness the powerlessness of the characters of Haby (Anta Diaw) and Blaz (Aristote Luyindula), who become symbols of two different ways of giving voice to the social malaise of the population of Les Bosquets: political organisation, and violence. Ladj Ly can’t decide which is better between the two, letting the discourse veer towards a do-gooder populism that has a whiff of defeat, yet lacks any subversive or nihilistic charge. If in Les Misérables, it was the less affluent Parisian youth vigorously revolting against the police, in Les Indésirables, young people are either absent or sketched in as supporting characters, suspended between being characters of a romantic comedy or heroes of the people, in an ideological short-circuit that now dominates most films with supposed authorial ambitions. If there is something memorable in this work, it is without a doubt Alexis Manenti’s presence, as the odious modern Javert, excellent at playing the cruel banality of the local administrative policy now always more devoid of social responsibility.
The latter is a value that many up-to-date directors seem to have abandoned, careless towards the audience in their sly presentation of modern life, while manipulating it with shameless close-ups and handheld camera to heighten pathos. In short, there is great disorder in Les Indésirables but the situation is not excellent: we continue to mistake showing misery for fun and wanting to restore their dignity to the wretched with art.
(Translated from Italian)
Photogallery 30/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - Les Indésirables / Bâtiment 5
20 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.