Ladj Ly’s politically charged urban drama Les Miserables has been chosen to represent France in the Best International Feature Film category at the 92nd Oscars. The Cannes Jury Prize winner also recently played Toronto and is opening the COLCOA fest in Los Angeles at the DGA this Monday. It will release in the U.S. via Amazon on January 10 after closing one of the biggest domestic deals ever for a French-language movie last May.
Ly, who was a rare first-timer in the Cannes Competition, as well as a Deadline One To Watch this year, wrote and directed Les Misérables which was inspired by the by the 2005 Paris riots, and Ly’s César-nominated short film of the same name. It takes a provocative look into the tensions between neighborhood residents and police, centering 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.
Ly, who has also worked as an actor and is known for his attention-grabbing web documentaries, was signed by CAA during the Cannes fest. Wild Bunch has sold Les Mis in over 50 offshore markets.
Les Mis beat out Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Alice Winocour’s Proxima which were also on the CNC selection committee’s shortlist this year. France has one of the best track records in the International Feature category (formerly known as the Best Foreign Language Film race), with more than half of its submissions scoring nominations and nine pictures taking home the gold, though the last time dates back to 1992’s Indochine.
Another recent first-timer on the main stage at Cannes was Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes, whose Son of Saul rode all the way from the Croisette to the Foreign Language Film Oscar. AMPAS will unveil its shortlist for the International race in December.