Running time: approx. 6 hours
Valjean: Gerard Depardieu — Javert: John Malkovich — Fantine: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Special Guest Stars: Jeanne Moreau as Mother Innocent
Directed by Josée Dayan
M. Gillenormand: yes
Both Mlle. Baptistine and Mme. Magloire: yes
Thénardiers, after the inn: yes
Sister Simplice: yes
Gavroche's brothers: no
Mme. Victurnien: yes
Petit Gervais: yes
M. Mabeuf: no
Toussaint: well... yes and no... read on...
Hugo's original preface used
Valjean is in prison at the beginning
Bishop Myriel remains asleep during the robbery (no, he wakes—but goes back to bed!)
Fantine and Félix Tholomyès
Fantine sells her teeth (well, she tries to... at least it's mentioned)
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(well, sort of... barely)
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 (not shown; not sure if mentioned)
Chase through sewers
Story continues after Javert's suicide
Marius, after learning Valjean's history, treats him badly
Correct number (he said he was a number, but that's all)
Works in the galleys
The factory makes glass beads (textile factory!)
The doll, Catherine (well, there is a doll....)
The garden at Rue Plumet
Correct address (supposedly)
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
Eponine/Gavroche as Thénardier's child (Eponine yes; Gavroche no)
P R O D U C T I O N N O T E S
This version is perhaps the most massively complicated undertaking of all the versions seen so far. Filmed in Prague (following a long tradition of filming Les
Misérables in eastern European locations), this is a joint German-French-Italian-US project utilizing Gerard Depardieu's own production company, there's always the worry
that too many cooks spoil the bread.
I was having a talk with someone after we had watched Lord of the Rings. He was talking about how much they left out of that movie, how much was changed,
and so on and so on, and after about half an hour of his whining I said, "Your book is Tolkein's, mine is Hugo's. So far there have been two dramatizations of the work--the animated one
and this new one. Try suffering through 50 different adaptions of Les Misérables, and then tell me how disappointed you are." Maybe I was harsh with him, but hey, I thought
LOTR rocked. If only someone with as much love for LM could do as much for this work as Peter Jackson did for Lord of the Rings.
You can probably tell already that this is not going to be a rave review. Well, excuse me, but I'm saving myself for the real deal. One day, someone will do it
right... someone will hire great actors, build great sets, acquire a great script, and bring the project to life as it deserves to be dramatized.
One day. But not today.
As for the other details of the plot:
- I have to confess here that I do not have a full translation of the French version. Most of what I'm reviewing is based on following the gist of the dialog blended with my
knowledge of the original work. However there are some things that stand out. Such as:
- Fauchelevant being in the National guard and going to fight the students of the barricade. He spies Jean Valjean and goes to greet him like a brother, and is shot by Enjolras.
- Javert is denounced as being a spy behind the barricade. And Enjolras does nothing. He lets Javert run around for awhile and finally gets around to dealing with him.
- Javert is initially sent to Montreuil-sur-Mer to secretly investiage the town and the source of the mayor's wealth. Interesting way to get him there!
- Cosette spends an inordinate amount of time in bed. In fact, during the last episode she spends more time in bed than out of it. If she's not moping around, she's being woken
up by either Marius or Valjean... which leads to
- This is not the first version to suggest that Valjean is in love with Cosette, but it is by far the creepiest. Cosette does not make things much better. At one point she sneaks out
of the convent dormitory to go to the gardner's cottage and visit Valjean... and ends up in the same bed with him. There's a similar scene in the English version, but there's a big
difference--later on, Valjean confesses to Marius that he loves Cosette. Marius says, "of course, like a father." And Valjean says, "No, I love her." *shudder*
C A S T N O T E S
The actors do a creditable job of acting, but visually, they just don't make the grade. What do I mean? Well, to be shallow, Fantine is a brunette and Mme.
Thénardier is a blond. Going deeper, Marius is just plain ugly, and the Thénardiers are too good-looking. Gavroche starts out at about 14 and is still 14 ten
years later. M. Gillenormand is just not old enough. And while John Malkovich is an excellent actor, he has the same lack of inflection in French as he does in English.
He's got intensity in spades, but he does not know how to speak in any other way than a monotone. He would make an excellent Vulcan.
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
- The costumes, the sets, the atmosphere...they're all spectacular. The actors could use a little help. The script could use a lot of help. But other than that, it's all eye candy.
Especially, I must mention, the set decoration of Javert's office in Toulon. The phrenology charts are perfect. He has always struck me as the type to employ all the "modern" tools of
criminology, including the latest method for determining criminal intent--by examining the shape of a man's head!
- Though they changed the jet factory to a textile factory, there's a line about how they've winnowed nettles for the fiber for their cloth. Anyone who's read the original might remember
a short paragraph about M. Madeleine telling some workers that nettles are versatile things with many uses... it's a nice Easter egg for anyone who's been paying attention.
- The Thénardiers, although they look too good (IMO), are really a pair. They're constantly kissing each other and they're shown to be attentive parents to their own
children (when the children are little, that is). It's never ceased to amaze me that of all the family relationships in Les Misérables, the Thénardiers have what is
generally referred to as the most "traditional." So few characters in the book are part of a nuclear family, the Thénardiers have always struck me as a sharp jab in the side of
those who think that that's the only kind of acceptably "moral" family arrangement.
- Sometimes, even when things are out of place, they strike a familiar chord. Valjean and Cosette's first night in Paris is spent in Gavroche's company, and he tells them to watch
out for the rats. Cosette is the one who is frightened of the rats--an echo of the scene in the elephant of the Bastille, when Gavroche welcomed his two brothers to life on the street.
- When Valjean and Cosette first live in Gorbeau house, Cosette draws a picture of herself in the woods with Valjean and the bucket, a childish drawing. Years later when Marius
moves in, the picture is still on the wall, and he leaves it up--he likes it!
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
- The music. It's very dull and very repetitive. I think they only had about half an hour's worth of music budget and they kept playing the same record over and over.
- Valjean runs away from Montreuil-sur-Mer, chased by Javert and men with dogs--and Valjean finds a barn, sets it on fire and then hides in the rafters! But Valjean is not the only
idiot; Javert comes across the burning barn and moves on, rather than posting men there! If he'd just waited awhile, Valjean would have either burned to a crisp or come running out,
and that would have made for a much shorter movie...
- Javert's costume! He looks like he shops at the same boutique as Trinity from The Matrix...
- Frankly, Gerard Depardieu's nose is very distracting. Good lighting and shooting him from the proper angle would have alleviated much of the problem, but, well, it looks like the tip
of a penis. As good an actor as he is, this is Jean Valjean! Yikes!
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....
- Ickiest Death Scene: Eponine gets shot and Marius takes her to the room where the dying are laid out... after ten minutes of chewing scenery
Eponine coughs up a wad of blood and dies... and then Marius kisses her on the mouth! Ewwwww!
- Best Cameo Appearance By A Dead Guy: Am I the only one who noticed that the guy who plays Toussaint bears more than a passing
resemblance to Tor Johnson, star of so many of Ed Wood's horrible movies? After all, more often than not, Tor didn't have much dialog either. It was very, very difficult not to think of this
servant as the same guy who did "Bride of the Monster," "Plan 9 from Outer Space," and "The Beast Of Yucca Flats." If you are a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you are probably
already laughing yourself sick. I haven't stopped laughing since!
- Best Resignation: No, not Javert's. Toussaint's. Valjean comes back from Cosette's wedding and finds something scrawled on the
mirror: basically, "Cosette is happy, Javert is dead, and you don't need me any more, so I'm outta here." This is even better if you realize that all through the Rue Plumet sequence
Valjean has been really harsh on Toussaint, striking him on one occasion, and the poor guy had to scribble on a chalkboard!
- Weirdest Weather Award: As Vanessa Williams noted, sometimes the snow comes down in June... especially when Javert is walking into
the Seine trying to commit suicide. And it looks like he borrowed Geoffrey Rush's handcuffs, too.
W H E R E T O F I N D T H I S V E R S I O N
I have only seen the French DVD version on EBay, but it's a region 2 DVD and incompatible with US systems... unless of course you have a region free player (cough)