Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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At Large

‘Les Miz’ fills you up

Wilson Tieng, who heads Solar Films, the local distributor of Universal, while introducing “Les Miserables” at a special preview, remarked that he was “ready” to watch the film, holding up some tissue in one hand.

My sister’s caregiver later complained that we hadn’t sufficiently warned her about the waterworks the film would provoke, saying she began wiping away her tears with her fingers, then the sleeves of her blouse, and later with the bodice itself. “I’m afraid my eyes will be so swollen when I wake up tomorrow morning,” she rued.

We smiled in response. While I had watched the stage version of the musical twice (once with a local cast at Meralco Theater, and another time with a touring company at the Kennedy Center), and so was familiar with the emotional highlights of the story, I wasn’t prepared for how closeups and camera movement—not to mention the excellent acting—could intensify the emotional wallop. As early as Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) death scene, where she sings a mournful, angry, wistful “I Dreamed a Dream,” tears were already streaming down my face. Tieng, on the other hand, told me after the showing that just on the opening scene alone, when the convicts were shown waist-deep in sea water tugging a ship ashore, he was already tearing up.


So be warned. When you go to theaters today to watch “Les Miz,” be sure to be armed with tissues, handkerchiefs, maybe even diapers. No one, it seems, walks out of the theater unmoved, unfeeling, not humming any of the musical’s memorable signature songs.

* * *

We all know by now the general outline of “Les Miz,” the musical which is based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. The core of the story centers around the “Paris Uprising of 1832,” where young Republicans, most of them university students, sought to overthrow the French monarchy headed by King Louis-Philippe, and restore the Republic established after the French Revolution.

But the play, as with the novel, embroiders upon this central event with the tale of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Valjean is released after 19 years in prison (for stealing bread for his sick nephew) only to be hounded by the relentless Javert (Russel Crowe) even after Valjean turns a new leaf and adopts a new identity, eventually ending up as a town mayor and prosperous owner of a garments factory.

Valjean’s path crosses that of Fantine, a factory worker who is forced into prostitution to support her illegitimate daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried who plays her as an adult). After Fantine’s death, Valjean flees to Paris with Cosette in his care, still hounded by Javert, and where they will soon meet with the young Republicans, including Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who falls instantly in love with Cosette.

The movie is a wild, tempestuous brew of love, politics, class conflicts, morality, duty and fate. But while the stage musical was sweeping and grand in scale, the film version allows the viewer to take an intimate, closeup view of the actors, enhancing the emotional impact of the most powerful songs. At the same time, it allows for a more sweeping, panoramic view of events which even the most lavish stage production could not accommodate.

* * *

Already cited by the Golden Globes, and nominated at the Oscars, is the film itself (Best Musical or Comedy at the Globes) and two outstanding performers: Jackman and Hathaway. At the end of the film, Jackman looks visibly aged and exhausted, and who wouldn’t be, as he is in almost every harrowing scene. Hathaway, so press reports say, willingly had her head shaved in the course of the filming, and, an even more astounding accomplishment in my book, lost 20 pounds to better fit the role of the sickly tragic Fantine. (Jackman, on the other hand, had to lose weight for the first half of the film, and then gain back all those pounds and more as Valjean ages.)


Two younger performers likewise deserve accolades: Redmayne and Samantha Barkes as Eponine, a character who grew up with Cosette and later falls in love with Marius. Though seemingly trivial, the role has achieved iconic status because of the song “On My Own,” which is the single most memorable, singable and thus most popular number in the musical. (As a side note, Lea Salonga is known for having performed both Eponine and later, Fantine, onstage. And she has already written about performing together with Barkes during the 25th anniversary performance of “Les Miz.”)

And now a word about Crowe. The Internet (or is it Twitter-verse?) is supposedly abuzz with the comments of American Idol winner Adam Lambert who panned Crowe’s singing in the movie. To be fair, I do remember Javert in the local production as sung by Michael Williams and the role does lend some prime moments for a baritone. I wouldn’t call Crowe a “baritone,” and some would even contest if he was in fact singing, and not reciting. But Crowe’s depth as an actor trumps his failings as a singer. So forgive him na.

* * *

Exiting the movie house, I had never felt so … FULL. There is something about soaring lyrics, moving music, intense acting, and grand vistas that fills one’s soul, and not just satisfies the mind or heart.

True, the Cameron Mackintosh musical gave “Les Miserables” the movie a ready-made audience, an audience prepared to fall in love all over again with the story and the songs. But the film also gave its core audience added dimensions to appreciate and to “enter” even as they knew where the story was headed.

Best of all, it gave “Les Miz” virgins a chance to commune with Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Eponine, Marius, and even Javert in reliving a bit of history, even one so far removed from our reality.

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TAGS: ‘les miserables’, column, Rina Jimenez-David
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