Valjean: Georges Geret — Javert: Bernard Fresson — Fantine: Anne-Marie Coffinet
Special Guest Stars: Lucien Nat as M. Gillenormand
Directed by Marcel Bluval
An INA Production
M. Gillenormand: yes
Both Mlle. Baptistine and Mme. Magloire: yes
Thénardiers, after the inn: yes
Sister Simplice: no
Gavroche's brothers: yes!
Mme. Victurnien: no
Petit Gervais: no (mentioned in flashback, unnamed)
M. Mabeuf: yes
Toussaint: yes (no stutter)
Hugo's original preface used
Valjean is in prison at the beginning (well, he would have been, BUT they started the film halfway through and flashed back to it. So if it
were a linear story, yes)
Bishop Myriel remains asleep during the robbery
Fantine and Félix Tholomyès
Fantine sells her teeth
Fantine becomes a prostitute
Valjean buries his money
Fight at Fantine's Deathbed
The ship Orion
Valjean meets Cosette at the well
The first incident at Gorbeau House
Javert chases Valjean and Cosette
* Through Paris
* On foot
* Car(riage) chase
The second incident at Gorbeau House
Valjean and Cosette see the chain gang
Lamarque's funeral is shown or mentioned
Chase through sewers
Story continues after Javert's suicide
Marius, after learning Valjean's history, treats him badly
Works in the galleys
The factory makes glass beads (unknown, barely even mentioned)
The doll, Catherine
The garden at Rue Plumet
Correct address (unknown, but it's mentioned as being near the Rue Babylone, so that's a
The Luxembourg Garden
The town's name is Montreuil-sur-mer
The man Valjean saves in Arras is named Champmathieu
Valjean's name becomes Fauchelevant (yes, but there's no
Fauchelevant in the beginning!)
Eponine/Gavroche as Thénardier's child
P R O D U C T I O N N O T E S
This is the earliest attempt at a French television version of this story. There are two two-hour blocks of story involved, called Gorbeau House and St.-Denis.
But wait, I hear you say, what about Montreuil-sur-Mer? What about Toulon? What about Digne? Well, they're there, but...
This story is told in almost the same manner as Homer's version of the Siege of Troy. Homer did not write it out linearly, from start to finish.
He started from the middle and then went back and forth as the tale progressed. He would introduce a character and then go back to the history of him, and then come
back to the story and it would continue. Many parts of Hugo's own work were constructed the same way. We are first introduced to Valjean, then once he is at the
Bishop's, we learn his history. Then the story continues from there.
In the same way, this movie starts with Marius right before his father dies, introducing him and the Friends of the ABC in great detail and continuing
on through his estrangement, his meeting with Cosette in the Luxembourg, and so on. It is only when Valjean realizes that Cosette is in love that we see an hour of
flashback that covers the first half of the book up to that point. Then we go on from there. It's intriguing that we get introduced to Valjean in this way, only now that he crosses
Marius's path. It's hard to imagine a version where basically Marius is the central character and Valjean is relegated to the position of featured costar, but this shift in focus
does a few things that some other versions don't: it allows for a greater expansion on the themes of Hugo's obsession with the revolutionary spirit of the times, it focuses more
on the younger cast members than (forgive me) the old fogeys, and it helps speed up the action. As interesting as Valjean is as a character, you can only watch him lift that cart
so many times before it becomes blasé. Changing up the story flow tightened the drama and made for a fresh view on the whole thing.
As for the other details of the plot:
- Much of the first part of the book, since it is in a flashback, relies
heavily on narration and characters explaining things. Necessarily, many things
are absent from the pre-Marius story, such as the cart
lifting, the convent, the first Gorbeau sequence, the doll scene, even
the factory. Valjean does not get invited into the Bishop's house; he is
chased into it by a crowd of angry citizens. And even after the flashbacks,
anything with Valjean is shortened and the time given to the students. Valjean
doesn't even get to confess to Marius, it's not even a flashback, it's casually
mentioned by Marius when he's confronting Thénardier.
- However, the second Gorbeau incident is extremely detailed and mostly
faithful to the book (Valjean's escape is somewhat less stealthy and a bit
clownish), down to the names of the criminals. Likewise, the students all look
as Hugo envisioned them, right down to the fact that amid all these students in
their black frock coats, Feuilly is there in his laborer's smock and floppy hat.
More on that later.
- It's neat to see certain things that you know are part of the book. Seeing
Père Lachaise cemetery in the last moments was a cool ending, especially.
C A S T N O T E S
- Bernard Fresson (Javert) played Victor Hugo (!) in a 2002 French TV movie
about the struggle Hugo had to put on his first great play, Hérnani.
- Lucien Nat (M. Gillenormand) is an old veteran of Les Misérables on film. His
second role was in the 1934 version, playing Montparnasse. This role, as
Marius's grandfather, was his last film role.
T H E B E S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
One of the toughest things about this work, no matter how it's performed, is
that there are so damn many students you can't keep track of them without a
program book and some "hello, my name is" nametags. However, if you've
read the book and you understand the personalities of the characters, they look
like who they're supposed to be. Enjolras is no red-vest wearing blond, he
portrays his bourgeoise upbringing in his bearing and his patriotism in his
behavior. Anyone can play Grantaire as a drunkard, but this guy plays him as a
person, torn between not caring and having to choose to care. Prouvaire looks
eerily like another poet, Poe. Lesgles is very pleasant, as is Courfeyrac, and
in the very first shot of Joly, just a reaction shot to him listening to
Enjolras speak, you can almost see the thought balloon over his head to the
effect that he could really use a cup of Theraflu.
Gavroche and the boys! You betcha! And the Elephant! Of course, the boys vanish and are not
heard from again. Would have been nice in that case to see the scene with the swans and
the fountain to tie that up, but you can't have everything...
Finally we get to see Cousin Théo do something but hold the furniture down. He's
only on screen five minutes but he's every bit the pompous windbag stuck on
himself that the book portrays him as. And with this we also get to see Mlle
Gillenormand do, well, something! Woo hoo!
A very small bit: when Valjean is leading Javert out of the barricade, there's a
cannon shot explosion nearby, scattering them with dust and debris. The great
thing is that when it hits, Valjean shields Javert from the fallout. It's a very
tiny act, but it's perfect!
T H E W O R S T T H I N G S A B O U T T H I S V E R S I O N
Because of the flashback thing, there are two ways to convey information that
the viewer needs to know, assuming they don't know what's going on: narration,
and exposition. The narrator does a credible job especially during the early
part of the first episode, but by the end of the first half the narration has mostly
given way to exposition, and not in a good way. The last thirty minutes of the
first part comprises the second Gorbeau sequence, just the ambush part of it, and it seems to be running in real time as Thénardier
plays Basil Exposition from the Austin Powers movies: he has Valjean at his mercy and seems
to insist on talking him to death while Mrs.
T goes off with "Urbain Fabre's" letter to Cosette. And in the
second part, the narrator disappears, unless it's to tell us how noble the
students' cause is.
In the very beginning, before we're introduced to the students as people, we
basically see students gather, meetings broken up, speeches made, a (very)
obvious Javert spying on the meetings, guns being gathered, gun caches being
siezed by the police, and so on. And all through this we see almost nothing but
guys in bushy mustaches, painters smocks, and floppy hats. They look so, so, I
dunno, 70's? Like James Taylor, or Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter. But then,
during the Gorbeau sequence, all the bad guys are in coats and ties. What the
Wow, talk about some short shrift for some characters. The only time we see
Fantine at all is during her arrest sequence. Petit Gervais is mentioned,
without name, as just another of Valjean's victims during a brief descriptive by
Javert. The bishop at least gets a few more lines than that, but on the other
hand, Cosette going to the well whining and babbling about how frightened she is
got more screen time than he did! And dang, how can you cut the cart
sequence? And how can you cut it in favor of, I kid you not, Gavroche skinny
dipping in the river? On one hand yes, it's nice to see a lot about minor
characters, but not at the expense of the main story!
Along the same lines, the scatterbrained attention to detail. So much of the
Valjean backstory is butchered and yet they managed to put the numbers 50-52 on
Gorbeau House. Or the fact that after all this exactness, they have Javert
disappear right after he and Valjean take Marius home. It's almost like the Valjean parts of the book are just dressing
for the "important" barricade stuff. One might remember that this was
in '72, and that student protests were still on everyone's mind as being an
everyday thing, all over the world. Still, I know I've used this simile before,
but it is a bit like remaking Moby Dick and barely mentioning the whale.
And Valjean's sudden-head-jerk-back, instant rigor mortis death scene, after all
the really nice stuff Valjean did in this version (what they let him do on
camera, anyway) was a bad bad BAD way to end his part. Hell, Gavroche did better
in the dying department.
T H E S I L V E R C A N D L E S T I C K A W A R D S ( " STICKIES® " )
And the awards go to....
- Strangest Casting Shortcut AWARD Dominique Zardi is credited as both Montparnasse
and Claquesous, and refers to himself as both in different parts of the
film. Did I miss something
here? Or couldn't they afford two separate actors?
- Coolest Luxembourg Sequence Ever AWARD: Marius, poor, hungry, is reading on a
bench in the garden. He looks up, nothing special, people passing by, other
people on the bench across the way. He goes back to reading. He glances up,
and POW, there's these blue eyes looking back at him! Cosette turns away, a
small smile on her face, as she speaks to Valjean seated next to her. She
waits a moment, then looks back; Marius is still gawking at her. Suddenly
she is walking towards him, and he stands up to meet with her as this
operatic aria swells in the background. Their hands almost touch, and
instantly he's in a much better suit and she's in white, with orange flowers
in her hair, and they are arm in arm. Valjean watches them walk away,
unnoticed by them, and the music cuts abruptly and Cosette is sitting next
to Valjean and he says "let's go," but he has seen Marius looking
at her, and he knows. And you can just see it seething under
Valjean's surface that in that one tiny moment he has lost Cosette. Frickin'
- Most Matrushka Doll Plot Points AWARD: I've mentioned that there's flashbacks aplenty
in here. But during the flashback to Montreuil-sur-mer, Valjean flashes back
to a previous point where Javert attempts to resign in the wake of denouncing
him before the prefect. I'm pretty sure that having a flashback inside of a
flashback incurs a fifteen yard penalty with a loss of down.
- Cheapest And Most Obvious Set-Doubling-As-Metaphor AWARD: Every time Valjean moves on
during the flashbacks, he goes up a large staircase. When he leaves the Bishop's
house in transition to Montreuil-sur-mer, he goes up a huge staircase. He
does the same on his way to Arras. When he gets Cosette, they
go up together. Yes, we get it, he's elevating himself bit by bit. Would it have
killed your budget to spring for some paint and plywood? (and heck, even Javert
goes up and up, before he takes an awesome plunge off the bridge... the best
- Runner-up, Cheapest And Most Obvious Set-Doubling-As-Metaphor AWARD: there's an
awful lot of façade images in here. The story starts with a montage of
Parisian architecture and a long-winded narration about what goes on behind
the façades, how the walls could speak of the history and soul of the
nation, and so on. And after the students died, again with the façades! And
yes, Valjean's façade as a respectable man... and so on... yep...
W H E R E T O F I N D T H I S V E R S I O N
This movie was available on video, French language only (no subtitles) but it
is no longer in print. As with so many other versions, try eBay.