Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Les Misérables 2012

I don't review books on this blog - but I feel compelled to mention the French historical novel, written by Victor Hugo and published in 1862, that I had the misfortune of reading in its unabridged entirety, some years back. Aptly titled Les Misérables, it was a miserable tale of a miserable man whose life is so beset by misery, that it's a mystery how he continues to live.

The idea that Jean Valjean's pathetic story could be used to create a musical, where people sing and occasionally dance, made absolutely no sense to me. The fact that that musical is one of the most successful ones out there, is even more shocking. Still, I refused to watch it. Having read the book, I refused to subject myself to more of Valjean's misery.

The story goes thus: Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread in his youth, to save his sister's life. He got arrested and instead of the five years he would normally serve for the theft, he spent the next 19 years in prison as punishment for his numerous escape attempts. Finally released back into society, he faces constant hostility for being an ex-convict and so when a priest actually treats him with kindness (despite Valjean stealing from the church), his heart fills with the love of God and His creation. The rest of the story is about him creating a new identity for himself, trying to be a good person, and finding some success and happiness - when *boom* Javert, one of the jail-keepers turns up round the corner and Valjean has to give it all up, go to a new place, create a new life, find some happiness, this time in the form of an adopted daughter...and yep, Javert turns up there too. This keeps happening over and over again - and Valjean barely gets 10 pages of happiness before he is made to run and be unhappy again. Yes it is really miserable.

But when the trailers for the film came out - with Hugh Jackman and Rusell Crowe leading the cast, my interest was piqued and I decided to bite the bullet and watch this musical, onscreen.

So, first off the camera work is pure perfection - from extreme close-ups to sweeping shots, the technique is flawless and the film is a delight to watch. The make-up is quite theatrical and therefore less perfect, but it is still very good (though Jackman's prosthetic teeth really bugged me throughout the movie). The direction by Tom Hooper and the performances he elicited from his cast - very, very commendable. And then there's the singing.

I have to admit, one of the factors that got me into the cinema was the opportunity to hear Hugh Jackman sing - and that was the most disappointing of all voices in the film for me. The songs just did not seem suited to his natural voice and he constantly seemed out of tune, which I am sure he wasn't. On the other hand, Russell Crowe, from whom I expected nothing, sang to his strengths and was really very good. Plus, he looks great in the film and Javert's role suits him perfectly. Besides these two, Amanda Seyfried (as Cosette) and Samantha Barks (as Eponine) do full justice to their roles and their songs. But it was Anne Hathaway (as Fantine) who completely blew me away. Her 'I dreamed a dream' gave me goosebumps, she is that good. And very surprisingly it was Eddie Redmayne (playing Marius), who was the other actor that made me react like that, with his 'Empty chairs at empty tables'. His rendition is exquisite. To be honest, all the actors sang beautifully, except for Hugh Jackman, who clearly can sing well, but his songs just seemed wrong for him.

Does this mean I enjoyed the film - and take back everything I said, like 'how can anyone sing about being so miserable'?
Having seen the musical now, in its cinematic avatar, I still think it's a terrible story, with misfortune upon misfortune ladled on one soul, and his 'goodness' is absolutely sickening. To hear them all sing throughout the film did not make me like the story any better, but instead managed to piss me off a little bit more about why they couldn't just talk to each other in a normal voice!

Still, for people who enjoy this sort of film, it is an excellent offering. If the genre is acceptable, and the story is not a problem, then Les Misérables is at the top of its game.

I really didn't enjoy it.

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