Front Row Center Seat for “Les Miserables”

I once saw an excellent stage production of “Les Miserables”. And a few years later, I had tickets to see it again, front row center, right in front of the orchestra pit. I had to give up those tickets due to unforeseen circumstances, and it smarted for years. But all has been made right now with the movie version starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway. Every seat in the theater is like front row center for this bigger-than-life film and its timeless music.

The story contained in French novelist Victor Hugo’s tome is well-known in its portrayal of justice, mercy, and redemption among the poor, pitiful unfortunates during politically unstable times in early 19th century Paris. What brings this version to boisterous life is the raw, gritty realism with which it’s portrayed, with actors who lost weight, faces full of blood, dirt, and stained teeth, and the ugly, vulgar squalor of peasant life.

Massive, epic scenes of a monstrous ship, of prison labor, of an ancient hilltop monastery, and of barricades across a Parisian cityscape are contrasted with tight close-ups of dirty, teary faces passionately singing songs of deep feeling and lament. In these close-up solitary character studies, the camera doesn’t cut away till the last note’s echo has died. It’s an effect that seems to involve all of your senses and binds you more closely to the story than smelling the pages of an old book.

Strangely, it’s the realistic look of the film, with all its ugliness, and its story of the triumph of the human spirit that fashions the finished product into a thing of beauty.

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