14.1.13

Les Miserables

Peter Bradshaw was beaten into submission, and after seeing the film this evening I understand where he's coming from – the intense sincerity of each performance is an almost physical force punching through all your defenses. Did peak early, though, with Anne Hathaway's 'I dreamed a dream'. Her contortions reminded me a little bit of Kiera Knightley's gurning in A Dangerous Method, which is kind of the point. Hooper obviously wanted to avoid any romanticisation of the prostitute's life, it's just unremittingly grim. And the ache in Hathaway's voice is overpowering. Imagine this with the ethereality stripped away. Everything else can't quite match it, and by the end I was growing increasingly conscious of the film's length and my sore backside (TMI, probably, but those seats really were death-traps).

Hooper told his DP to go crazy on this film. Cameras thrown all around, waving all over the place. Every shot a tilt. Every crane shot elongated into a sweep over a CGI landscape. Not quite Baz Lurhmann but you get the idea. Only once did the effect descend into parody – an introductory two shot at the start of the scene in which Valjean reveals his past to Marius, set at a bizarre tilt. It was so arch I almost lolled in the cinema. But everything else works like magic. The cameras swoop like bats through the set, enhancing the sense that it's all a universe-sized theatre stage – crucial, since the actors are singing all the way through.

It's all artifice, these musicals. Manipulative as all hell. My instinct would be to resist, and the buy-in is often quite difficult. This manages it, however, probably because the singing sounds real – often flawed and all the better for it. At its best moments the acting actually interferes with the words of the song as they come out. In a world where everyone sings, not being able to anymore carries its own special force, and in fact some of the most powerful lines are spoken 'prose'. The normal (histrionic expressiveness) breaks down, and you're left with emotions so heavy they're impossible to articulate.

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