Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Independent Short Film Review: Les Misérables (2012); Note by Payman Akhlaghi, on The Cinematic Adaptaion of the 1980 Musical by Schönberg and Boublil

Les Misérables (2012, English, 157')
Directed by Tom Hooper
Adapted from the 1980 Musical by Schönberg (book, music) & Boublil (book) 

Original Note by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)
First published on Facebook.com/PAComposer, December 26th, 2012

To begin with, the absolutely courageous, stunning, captivating, and transporting, minutes-long close-up of Anne Hathaway as Fantine, singing the entire "I Dreamed a Dream" in a single shot, would more than justify one seeing this fine film on the large screen. The scene deservedly belongs on the list of the longest successful close-ups of the cinematic repertoire -- on par with that mesmerizing shot which opened "Tous les Matins du Monde", where Gerard Depardieu saturated the screen for many minutes with absolute authority. Ms. Hathaway not only sings but acts and performs the song with such flow and lack of affection that expecting her to be nominated for major awards feels quite natural. She's earned the director's trust in the maturity of her craft, whilst it's her performance and not just the music that has ultimately proven right the audacious choice made for the setting of this well-known number.

Altogether, this is one of the finest cinematic adaptation of any musical over the past two decades, a fact quite obvious from the very opening moments of the film. A sane balance has been struck between representative theatrical elements often imposed by, and lingering from, the original stage versions of any such adaptation, vs the realism of props, locations, and actions. This deliberate goal of achieving a convincing verismo within the fabulous aura of a musical has been heightened by the screenplay, and the masterly re-orchestration of the score, with the additional music, provided by Anne Dudley et al; and it's been consistently reflected in the emotional nuances observed by most members of the cast, which includes a sensitive and imposing Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. The attention to character details is equally evident in the fine performance by Russell Crowe as Javert, although one may not ignore that his excellent performance falls short on the musical side.

Costumes, scenic design, and CGI effects, are a taken for such a well-thought historic production, and the casting of Amanda Seyfried (teen Cosette), but especially Samantha Barks (Éponine), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) should be lauded for their successful blend of the visual, acting, and musical aspects of the characters. Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier) and Helena Bonham Carter (his wife) bring much lively energy and calculated humor to the details of their two disturbing characters; and Daniel Huttlestone and Isabel Allen bring the charm of childhood to their short but memorable roles. Much is communicated effectively in less than 3 hours, without cluttering the audience's mind, itself an achievement for any film of this size. This aim for clarity without losing counterpoint and momentum is especially evident in the battle scenes of Paris.

Finally, it's impossible not to zoom out of the entire production to remind ourselves the main secrets of the seemingly eternal life of this masterful story: a story of change and redemption, justice, fairness and forgiveness, caring and love, all set within the backdrop of desolation, war, and yet, an unwavering hope for a better future. The story is eternally youthful. If only Hugo could have seen how well it's endured the test of time.

© 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Additional Information: Composer: Claude-Michel Schönberg; Additional Music & Orchestrations: Anne Dudley, Rael Jones, Stephen Metcalfe; Books & Lyrics: Schönberg, Alan Boublil, Herbert Kletzmer, et al Screenplay: William Nicholson Based on Novel by Victor Hugo

(*) Sources for dates and names: IMDB.com,. Wikipedia.com

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