Ly, who is also a Deadline One to Watch this year, makes his feature debut with the movie that’s in the vein of Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine and Fernando Meirelles’ City Of God. In a rare turn for a first-timer, Les Misérables is in Competition at Cannes and is the only debut in the section.
Inspired by the 2005 Paris riots, and Ly’s César-nominated short film of the same name, Les Misérables takes a provocative look into the tensions between neighborhood residents and police. It centers on Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), who has recently joined the anti-crime brigade in Montfermeil, the Paris suburb where Victor Hugo set his classic novel Les Misérables. Alongside his new colleagues Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga) — both experienced members of the team — he quickly discovers tensions running high between local gangs. When the trio finds themselves overrun during the course of an arrest, a drone captures the encounter, threatening to expose the reality of everyday life.
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Ly is a native of Montfermeil, and is best known for his attention-grabbing web documentaries that depict the realities of social and political life. He began his career as an actor and member of Kourtrajmé, a collective he co-created in 1995 with childhood friends, directors Kim Chapiron and Romain Gavras.
After the 2005 Paris riots, Ly was triggered by the death of two youths who were hiding in an electricity substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, and he decided to film his neighborhood for a year to make a documentary entitled 365 Days In Clichy-Montfermeil. He continued his work on documentaries, and in 2014 directed 365 Days In Mali, which spotlighted a region in turmoil where militias and Tuaregs were preparing for war.