Friday, 24 August 2012

Les Miserables (2000)

This particular adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel is weird. Very weird. There are even two versions of it. There's a six hour miniseries that was made for French TV (in French obviously), and a shortened three hour version that was intended for American TV and had the same actors speaking in English. I saw the French-language version with English subtitles, a while ago actually but I've only got around to reviewing it now. The majority of the actors in this are French but it does feature several actors who are likely to be known by viewers outside of France. Gerard Depardieu plays Jean Valjean in it (and also acted as an Excecutive Producer). Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Fantine. The Italian actress Asia Argento plays Eponine. The most famous star in this version though is probably the American actor John Malkovich who plays Javert. The reason why I say that this version is weird is because in some ways it's an accurate adaptation of Hugo's novel - and in other ways it mangles the book to pieces! This is why you'll find plenty of positive, warm reviews online that praise this version for being faithful to the book and plenty of passionate reviews which argue that it's the exact opposite. Personally I really do not think that this version can be called a Hugo-faithful adaptation. Yes, this version does stick very closely to the book at times. It's got Eponine, Enjolras, Sister Simplice, Azelma, Petit Gervais, Monsieur Gillenormand and even Felix Tholomyes (in a very brief scene). You get to see the Thenardiers after the inn. Marius and Cosette first glimpse each other at the Luxembourg Gardens. Marius is cold towards Valjean once he finds out about his convict past. And now I'll explain why in other ways this version tears Hugo's novel to shreds...
  • I don't think this version can be called a faithful adaptation of the book because the characters often act completely out-of-character and it makes far too many stupid, random and completely unnecessary changes and additions to the source material. First of all, I'm extremely curious as to what drugs the screenwriters were smoking for them to think that making Valjean be obsessively in love with his adopted daughter Cosette was a good move. What were they thinking?! That is so wrong! Why did they feel the need to overcomplicate Valjean and Cosette's relationship? It doesn't need it! VALJEAN! It's your DAUGHTER! Yes, Hugo does say at one point that Valjean loves Cosette more than as a daughter in the book but he wasn't saying that he lusts after her! What Hugo was getting at was that Cosette is everything to Valjean. She's his whole world. I could have given the screenwriters a good slap for making Valjean's love for Cosette seem creepy and semi-incestuous! It's wrong, so very wrong!
  • There's also a very weird scene where Valjean announces to Monsieur Gillenormand that he's heard about Javert's death and is upset about it because, apparently, Javert was the one person who really knew him. What?!
  • Gavroche never ages. We first see his character in the scene where Valjean and Young Cosette arrive in Paris. He isn't the Thenardier's son in this version although, to be fair, this tends to be quite common amongst Les Mis adaptations. Gavroche is about 14 in this scene. When we see his character again, almost 10 years later, he's still 14! What?! Why?! Did they think we wouldn't notice?! Could they not be bothered to pay two different child actors to act the part? This is a major plot hole! 
  • We're told that Thenardier spent time in prison for selling Cosette to Valjean. Why? Was that their way of explaining why the Thenardiers are broke?
  • In the book, Fauchelevant dies while Valjean and Cosette are still living at the convent. In this version he doesn't and goes off to join the National Guard, only to get shot by Enjolras at the Barricade. Why?! This is so random!
  • Valjean and Cosette's servant at Rue Plumet, Toussaint, has been inexplicably changed from a woman with a slight stutter to a mute man. Why??? What purpose does this serve?!
  • Eponine is sometimes called "Ponine". This is just a blatant rip-off from the musical!
  • Marius agrees to sleep with Eponine in exchange for Cosette's address. I don't think I'll ever get over the shock of this!
  • Javert infiltrates the Sorbonne to spy on the students and bumps into Marius. For some inexplicable reason he proceeds to give Marius a birds and the bees talk and then tells him that he has to marry and make lots of children for the good of France. Huh?
  • Eponine is the one who arranges for Valjean and Cosette's house at Rue Plumet to be attacked in the first place but changes her mind later on. Why?!
  • Enjolras and Marius have a pyjama party.  
  • When Enjolras is told by Gavroche that Javert is a spy he does absolutely nothing about it! His reaction is basically "Yeah, so what? I thought they'd be a few traitors hanging around the Barricades. I'm not bothered about him. He can do what he wants. Leave me alone, you little brat!" In one swift move, the screenwriters turn the badass leader of the students into an incompetent dumbass! Woop de doo. And again, why?!
  • Enjolras agrees quite happily for Marius to leave the Barricade because his love life is more important. He even smiles. He freaking smiles! At this point my head almost exploded! Since when did Book Enjolras act like such a complete prat?! 
  • We don't get to see the Barricade fall and we don't see Enjolras or any of the students die. 
  • Javert's suicide scene is terrible and is absolutely nothing like the the suicide scene in the book.
  • Madame Thenardier doesn't die in prison like she does in the book either.
In fact the only addition that this version made which I actually quite liked was a scene where Thenardier talks about selling Cosette's teeth at the Inn. I thought it was a great not-in-the-book made up detail. It was plausible and was still in keeping with Thenardier's character.

The acting in this version is a mixed bag too. Some of the actors are good, some of the actors are OK and some of the actors are bad. I'll start with the actors who were good. Asia Argento gives a surprisingly decent performance as Eponine in this version. She was definitely better in this miniseries than she was as Christine Daae in her dad's appalling Phantom of the Opera film two years before. Perhaps because her dad wasn't around to perv on her? I thought the actors who played the Thenardiers (Christian Clavier and Veronica Ferres) were really good, if a bit too good-looking, and the kid who played Gavroche was good. They should have really cast an different and younger child actor for the scene when Valjean and Young Cosette first arrive into Paris though!

The very best actor to star in this miniseries though is Virginie Ledoyen as Cosette. She is by far the very best thing about this miniseries! Whereas Claire Danes portrayed Cosette as being an annoying, bitchy modern teenager in the 1998 film - mind you, that was probably because of the script - Virginie Ledoyen captures Cosette's character incredibly well! Not only does she look the part, she gives an absolutely wonderful performance. She's cute, adorable, passionate, lively, clever... and is clearly innocent and naive without coming across as whiny or annoying. It's a shame that she spends almost all of her scenes crying and moping in bed after Cosette gets married to Marius although, to be fair, I think I'd be crying and moping in bed if I was married to the Marius of this version.

The OK actors in this version were Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gerard Depardieu. Gainsbourg isn't bad as Fantine. Her acting's OK and she was still a lot better than the actress who played the character in the 1978 film. It's just that she isn't blonde and the way that she played Fantine wasn't particularly how I imagined the character when I read the book. I thought this when she played Jane Eyre four years earlier as well. Gerard Depardieu never really convinced me as Jean Valjean either even though he didn't really do anything wrong as such. Well, apart from perving on Cosette but I suppose that's not his fault. Wait! Maybe it is his fault! Depardieu helped to produce his film after all!

Now for the bad actors... Steffan Wink was very poor as Enjolras in this version. Although he is blonde (which is nice) he isn't good-looking enough, he's far too smiley and jovial, and he basically acts nothing like the Enjolras of the book. And as for John Malkovich, well, I thought he was just shockingly bad as Javert! He's completely lifeless! He's dead-eyed, he never emotes and he speaks in a flat monotone all the time! Come on Malkovich, I know that Javert is a cold and stern character but he does have some emotions! And the way that Malkovich would s-l-o-w-l-y annunciate every single word almost drove me mad! At least with Geoffrey Rush you know that he would have probably made a great Javert if he'd been given a good script. Anthony Perkins still remains my favourite Javert in a screen adaptation!

Another major problem that I have with this version is that it features the most poorly cast Marius you will EVER see! I'm of course speaking of the controversial face of Enrico Lo Verso. Oh dear, oh dear! Who on earth thought that he would make a great Marius?! For one thing he's far too old and is clearly in his thirties! Eddie Redmayne might be 31 but at least he doesn't look it! And I do realise that this is probably going to sound quite offensive and bitchy but Lo Verso is the least attractive Marius I have ever seen! He's got a long and crooked nose, an afro, a creepy smile, and in some scenes he even wears eyeliner (which he can't pull off). It really doesn't help matters that Virginie Ledoyen is so gorgeous either because it just makes him look even more unattractive! This version has my favourite Cosette but it also has my least favourite Marius!

So yeah, as you can probably tell I'm really not a fan of this miniseries at all. It's just as bad as the 1998 film. It had the potential to be an excellent adaptation but it makes too many random and completely unnecessary changes from the book. The acting is a mixed bag and it has some very poor dialogue in places too - like when Valjean tells Cosette that the reason why her mother called him Monsieur Madeleine is because that was her name for God. Or when Valjean tells Cosette that Marius has been injured at the Barricades and all Cosette seems to care about is that Valjean has finally accepted him. The only things that I would really say that this miniseries has got going for it are Virginie Ledoyen's Cosette and the brief scene with Felix Tholomyes. To round off this review, I'll include this YouTube video. The girl who made it has seen the whole of this miniseries as well and has put all of her least favourite bits in the video. I saw it before I watched the miniseries which you'd think would have put me off it completely but I wanted to see it just so I could say I'd seen it.


Mizzie-Me said...

I watched this miniseries, expecting a very good adaptation since it was done by the French and the French supposedly are proud of their Hugo. Having seen it, I agree with you completely – it's weird! I've seen Malkovich in some really good roles, but Javert isn't one of them. The way he spoke drove me insane, and his walking into the river and his top hat floating there made me laugh, which shouldn't be the reaction to Javert's suicide! And I shuddered and gagged at Éponine asking for her one night with Marius... When the point of the character in the book is that she'd never ask something like that from Marius!

Indigo Montoya said...

I know! You'd think the French would pull off a great Les Mis adaptation but this version is just so weird! I can understand adaptations leaving certain things out - I do understand that adaptations don't have the time to include everything from books. But what really makes me angry is when adaptations make stupid CHANGES and for no good reason. Why have Eponine ask Marius for a one night stand? Marius hasn't got any idea that Eponine is in love with him in the book! And I'm so glad that Javert's suicide made you laugh as well. It shouldn't be funny at all but in this version it really is.

Anonymous said...

I feel kind of weird commenting on something you wrote almost a year ago, but I agree with you sooooo much! The way Cosette was portrayed had been absolutely beautiful. Finally there was a version that showed her witty, naive, and passionate personality. As for Marius, I wasn't concerned over his appearance, but for the way he acted. He was way too forward and stalkerish. I know we now have the whol Marius creeper memes after the 2012 movie, but this one was far worse. The whole meeting at the gate scene and him trying to be intimate with her, even after Cosette was saying they don' know each other was bordering rapist implications. Marius is supposed to be young, passionate, introverted, and a bit awkward. As for Les Amis and the barricade scenes, I don't even want to touch that subject. Overall Cosette and the book-canon moments were the best parts of this rather disappointing adaption.

Indigo Montoya said...

Thanks for commenting! Sure, I wrote this review a year ago but I always enjoy reading feedback : )

This adaptation frustrates me so much! It had so much potential but it's a squandered opportunity! This miniseries isn't without merit of course - e.g. the portrayal of Cosette - but I'm REALLY not a fan. And, yes, you are completely right about Marius's personality being really off-putting as well. That whole "I'm touching you" exchange at the gate scene made me shudder. It's sooo creepy!

Monkey Fromthebridge said...

Hello : )
I thought the same about Gavroche age in this miniseries, but after, I realise they didn't make him grow up because he is a kind of "symbol". For France and french people, Gavroche is a little bit like Marianne and symbolize freedom and innocence, and oppressed people. So I suppose the screenwriters kept the same boy for that...

Anonymous said...

I wanted to slip in here just to say that actually Eponine is called "Ponine" several times by her family in the book.