Cannes 2019 zooms in on street battles and corporate cruelty with Le Miserables and Sorry, We Missed You

Cannes Film Festival has had two gems among others -- Ladj Ly’s Le Miserables and Ken Loach’s Sorry, We Missed You.
A still from Sorry We Missed You by Ken Loach.
A still from Sorry We Missed You by Ken Loach.
Updated on May 20, 2019 05:26 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByGautaman Bhaskaran

After the initial hiccups, the ongoing 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival managed to throw up some gems. Ladj Ly’s Le Miserables is an explosive feature that has been inspired by Victor Hugo’s account of 19th century France with its squalor and poverty and the downtrodden. The movie unfolds in the helmer’s native Montfermeil — where part of the novel was set -- and what a deadly picture it presents.

Le Miserables may be predictable in places, but is a damning look at how some of Parisian suburbs have degenerated beyond recognition today. The movie just gripped me with its tightly written script and a narrative style that kept you tied to what was happening to the innumerable characters on the screen.

Unfolding on a single day, the film follows a three-member police crime patrol headed by Chris (Alexis Maneti) and his two assistants, Gwada (Djebril Zonga) and Stephane (Damien Bonnard). Basically, Ly tells us how the children on the streets, completely brutalised and hardened by a life of crime, take on the cops in what seems dangerously defiant.

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A still from Ladj Ly’s Le Miserables.
A still from Ladj Ly’s Le Miserables.

As the plot kicks in, we see Issa (Issa Perica) stealing a lion cub from a visiting circus troupe, an act that literally starts a gang war. The policemen step in, but when Gwada fires a flash-ball gun that nearly blinds Issa, the situation gets out of hand. And recording all this with the help of a drone is a little boy, and the cops feel that that they have to somehow get the footage, which can be telling and leave them vulnerable. What follows is a free-for-all with thugs and street urchins and policemen getting into a battle.

The other title that was as powerful was Ken Loach’s Sorry, We Missed You. The British master was returning to Cannes three years after winning the Palm dÓr for his I, Daniel Blake. Earlier, he had given us works as hard-hitting at The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Bread and Roses.

Ken Loach’s Sorry, We Missed You tells the story of a working class family at the mercy of corporates.
Ken Loach’s Sorry, We Missed You tells the story of a working class family at the mercy of corporates.

This time, Loach knocked me out with Sorry, We Missed You. A movie that most Indians living in cities can identify with, Loach’s work is about the sheer cruelty of the corporate world and how it humiliates and tortures the men and women working here. We in India have seen the way food delivery boys zig zag on our killer streets trying to keep insanely unreal deadlines.

In Loach’s England, the picture is as bleak. At 82, he is still as angry as he was in his younger days. His latest outing, Sorry, We Missed You, is a painful look at the struggles of the working class living amidst corporate cruelty. This film is an apt companion piece to I, Daniel Blake, which spoke about the unfairness of the welfare system in the UK.

Sorry, We Missed You is even more disturbing, because it focusses on the relatively young people in contrast to Blake that spoke about the ageing class. And Loach’s open ending could not have hit me harder, and an ace Indian director like Rajiv Menon (whose Sarvam Thala Mayam caused waves recently and can be still seen on Netflix), told me soon after the screening of Sorry, We Missed You that he openly wept during the movie.

Loach’s world is simple, and he goes about showing it in all its earnestness. Rick (Kris Hitchen) and Aby (Debbie Honeywood) is an ordinary couple, and they love each other and their two children - 11-year-old Liza Jane (Katie Proctor) and her older brother, Seb (Rhys Stone), just 15. Having just lost his job in a construction company soon after the global banking crisis a decade earlier, Rick thinks he strikes gold when he lands a job in a busy parcel delivery depot. His boss, Maloney (Ross Brewster), is a difficult taskmaster, who would never hear a reason for a slip-up, and Rick finds the delivery deadlines almost impossible to keep. Yet, he struggles on, for want of a choice. Abby is a caregiver, working long hours tending to the old and sick, who are often rude and unreasonable. But soon enough, the strain of their workload begins to tell, and when Seb begins to misbehave in school, typical of a teenager, cracks appear in the family.

Rick’s life and his mounting debts that drown his earlier optimism (which drives Abby to sell her car so that Rick can but a delivery van, a precondition for his job) may be seen as running as parallel to many of the drivers in India who operate call taxis. Having spent huge amounts in buying cars in the hope that the assignment would fetch them handsome rewards, the drivers soon realise that they themselves have been taken for a ride - much like Rick.

Loach underlines the horrors of the system - sometimes sweetly, sometimes strongly. And they are shattering. A police officer gives a pep talk to Seb when he is caught shoplifting, telling him to treat the incident as motivation to change his lifestyle. Later, when Maloney gets rude and unreasonable over the phone after Rick is injured in a gang attack, Abby gives the manager an earful, firmly putting him in his place.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Cannes Film Festival close to three decades.)

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