Just for Les Misérables

While most of the world have already seen Les Misérables in the silver screen, it was just the first day for us here in the Philippines to have the chance of finally watching it. I’ve been anticipating the movie since last year and when I saw that the schedule was already up in the Sureseats website, I immediately reserved two seats by the aisle — almost all of the seats were gone.

I had to travel all the way from Marikina to Makati, with a pair of boots that blistered my feet badly (I forgot the rubber insole I usually use to protect my heels) and was running after the time before our reservation expires. Mon got there on time (12:45PM) and our seats has been already technically cancelled, but he eventually charmed his way onto the cashier’s heart and we got our seats all right. =D I, on the other hand, arrived five minutes before the movie started. I just had enough time to attach several plasters on my heels, adjust my socks and shoelaces, and get the most-needed toilet break to empty the reservoir, as we would be sitting on a two-hour and a half movie. The last time I woke up early for a first-day screening was for ‘Black Swan’.

First day showing of Les Misérables in Greenbelt 3

I assume that most people who were in the cinema with me had at least some knowledge of what the movie was about, given that it was adapted from a chef d’oeuvre of Victor Hugo, turned into a musical several times and even a movie starring Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman and Claire Danes. My inauguration with Les Misérables was with that movie and I remember watching with a bunch of high school classmates because we were to submit a review of the movie to our English class. The most interesting scene I recall from that movie was Fantine (Uma Thurman) being humiliated in the streets when she turned to prostitution, with snow (or was it a handful of francs?) shoved into her mouth. It was heart-wrenching. I have also seen some of the musical productions and clips online (thank you YouTube), which made anticipation for the movie more overwhelming.

Anyway, the point of comparison that has been exhaustedly discussed by critics and theater geeks alike (and no, I’m not one, not even the slightest) was the voice quality of the cast and the decision to record the voices live, contrary to a lip-synched playback. I personally liked the rawness of the emotion it brought to the film but given that the cast as whole were not at the same level of vocal prowess, some has suffered in the process. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was amazing. He literally carried the whole film and met my expectation with the knowledge that he has musical theater background. However, I felt that his “Bring Him Home” performance was already stretching his abilities because his voice seemed strained (and it was beyond cool to cast the extremely talented Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop because he was the best Jean Valjean ever!). As for Anne Hathaway, whose little screen time as Fantine was very well spent, her close-up and long, continuous shot “I Dreamed a Dream” performance conveyed every emotion of despair. Although reading things online, a lot of comparison and argument has been made over what should be the real emotion in this song. On one camp, some argued that it must be of a rollercoaster ride of emotion, with hints of hopefulness and optimism (see Lea Salonga on the 25th Anniversary show). While on the other, the gut-wrenching rendition of Anne with utmost despondency in every note was preferred. I’ve got no problem with it and it was the first instance I almost cried. But I was able to stop myself. =P Rusell Crowe was, well, let me put it this way — he was singing like one of those guys who can really carry a tune in a videoke. The acting was on point but the singing part was really underwhelming. Too bad.

Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette in Les Misérables

(Photo from hollywood.com)

Samantha Barks as Eponine was one of the highly sought after roles, especially with the song ‘On my Own’ being covered and re-recorded over and over again. I personally did not like her rendition of the song but her dying theme “A Little Fall of Rain” almost made me cry (second instance, but it still did not). Amanda Seyfried, playing the older Cosette, was okay in the sense that I came in not expecting much from her but she actually delivered. I also don’t understand the Cosette hate because I loved her! Although admittedly, her voice sounded a bit like that old Snow White film singing “Someday my prince will come” with the birds and butterflies in the forest — it was unusually shrill and high. And the kids, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette, made me smile the most. The stubbornness and independence of Gavroche, as well as the innocence and delicateness of Cosette were perfectly captured by the two actors. I especially loved that part when Cosette was humming the haunting “Castle on a Cloud” in the woods and immediately ran when Jean Valjean arrived. She was like a small kitten disrupted from playing in her own little world and ran for cover. I wanted to hug her and say everything will be all right.

Les Misérables weaves the political and religious, which of course isn’t that different from present-day societies in varying degrees of complexity (I need not go that far: see our situation here in the Philippines). But what is evident here is Victor Hugo’s optimism in ending social injustice, which can be at times excessive, but his unwavering faith in humanity clearly manifested with the reformation of Jean Valjean eventually taking over the custody of Cosette after Fantine’s death. But what made him do so? Perhaps it was a chance for him to exhibit being a reformed man, or even seeing his dead sister and her kids in Fantine and Cosette, who he wasn’t able to save before getting imprisoned. Victor Hugo with this optimism can be considered a liberal, believing in the inviolability of human life and a staunch critic of death penalty (see ‘In Defense of His Son’). A similar theme was exhibited in Les Misérables when Jean Valjean under the pretense of executing Javert let the latter go and gave him his freedom, which of course shook Javert’s sensibilities and precarious moral/civil balance, which eventually led to his suicide.  I’m admittedly not the most religious person but I still find the line “to love another person is to see the face of God” to be the most compelling. It was at this point in the movie were I began to cry, seeing Cosette finally breaking down at the knees of her dead foster father, while the ghost of the now-at-peace Fantine leading Valjean’s soul on.

Overall, I think it was a very good film in itself. The length might be a bit too much for some and kids and it even did it for some adults who fell asleep. But what I love most was how it reintroduces the story to a new generation of potential lovers of Les Misérables, which can get their interest to other works by Victor Hugo or other great authors (or even the whole romantic movement as well, or even instigate other to learn French and read the novel in its native language!). It also serves as a form of rekindling to those who are already familiar with the story but would like to be reintroduced to the whole world of Les Misérables anew.