Inspiring French film that is not a pure retelling of Victor Hugo’s novel, but rather a story of France during the Nazi occupation that mirrors some of the story’s actions and themes. The film starts at the turn of the century, when a man is falsely charged with killing his employer, and sent to imprisonment at hard labor. However, his trials are not the centerpiece of the film, and merely provide the foundation for his son’s story. His son, Henri, is effectively orphaned, and becomes a middleweight fighter, and later a mover. Henri, though uneducated and illiterate, is fascinated by the story of Les Miserables, and sees himself as a modern Jean Valjean. He agrees to help a Jewish family, the Zimans, escape to Switzerland, if only they read him the story of Les Miserables. His later experiences, as well as those of the Zimans, form the basis of the film. Henri is constantly reminded of parallels between his story and that of Les Miserables, and snippets of the classic are interwoven with his story. Director Claude Lelouch manages to weave together a broad variety of dissimilar stories and plots and create a remarkably cohesive whole. Treachery, plot twists and surprises abound, and this three hour epic is never boring or uninteresting. A great deal of credit is due to actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, who portrays both Henri and his father, as well as Jean Valjean in the Les Miserables sequences. His portrayals are strong, and provide the emotional core of the film. Lelouch’s direction is superb as well, from the period scenes, to the invasion of Normandy, and a wide variety of other scenes in between and beyond. The sum is an inspiring epic detailing the journey of a simple man and his choices throughout a dark period of history.
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