Ladj Ly grew up in Montfermeil, the son of immigrants from Mali, in one of the high-rise blocks of the Parisian banlieue that many only know from the media when there is unrest there. He filmed early on and recorded what was happening around him. So did the riots in 2005. His first feature film "Les Misérables – The Angry" acts like documentation over long distances. It is summer, the children are on vacation, a boy is filming – like Ly once – everything that is going on. After a couple of boys steal a lion cub from the circus, the smoldering conflicts between the police and various ethnic groups in the neighborhood escalate. In May last year, Ly received the jury award for "Les Misérables" in Cannes. Now the film has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
ZEIT ONLINE: Monsieur Ly, did you know that the title of your film is in German The angry is what is not the exact translation of Les Misérables corresponds? The "The Miserable" would be true to the original.
Ladj Ly: Oh
Yes? I did not know that. It can also be very bourgeois
People be angry. It lacks the aspect of need and misery.
After all, that's the reason for the anger in my film.
ZEIT ONLINE: They show an escalating conflict in a suburb of Paris in the northeast of Paris, in the Montfermeil high-rise blocks. Everyday life is determined by different interest groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Sinti and gangs. In order not to lose control completely, the police try to come to terms with the clan chiefs and break laws themselves. They grew up in this banlieue and say: Les Misérables is my story. In what way?
Ly: The script is based on real events. I wanted to talk about the neighborhood with everything that belongs to it: unemployment, social misery, exclusion.
ZEIT ONLINE: A lot has already been reported in the media about the French suburbs. Why this film?
Ly: I wanted to do a few things.
ZEIT ONLINE: What?
Ly: In any case, I wanted to avoid the usual clichés: In my film, not everything has come down, there are no drugs and no weapons, at least no shootings. I wanted to describe how it is – impartially, without judging or taking sides.
ZEIT ONLINE: Actually, reporters should, even if they don't come from there.
Ly: But there is a penchant for the sensational. The editors give their reporters half a day, everything has to be done quickly. There is no time for real interest or real getting to know and understand. You come when there is a fire and then you film it and show guys with hoodies. Journalists should know that it takes time. Most journalists unfortunately don't take them anymore.
ZEIT ONLINE: Then the film is also a media criticism?
ZEIT ONLINE: Do you accuse us journalists of something like cultural appropriation? So that we come from outside and judge people without knowing what constraints they are actually subject to?
Ly: Not that one. Of course, other people can tell stories about neighborhoods like Les Bosquets. It's more that we should have the right to tell our stories ourselves.
ZEIT ONLINE: Didn't you have that before?
Ly: Well, there aren't very many filmmakers in these suburbs. There is hardly any possibility of making and producing films.
[Embed] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjEK0OCxBJA [/ embed]
ZEIT ONLINE: Violence is actually a common subject in reporting on banlieues. A lot of violence is also shown in your film. Especially in the second half. After a group of teenage boys stole a lion cub from a circus, the situation between the different groups of adults – Sinti, Muslim Brothers, Black Africans – escalated. The police try not to lose control and at the same time find the animal again. However, they injure one of the boys. The officials want to cover up the incident, but since it was filmed by another child on a drone, they are now chasing these shots.
Ly: We show how violence occurs. Why the children in the film finally use them. Sure, one of the guys went nonsense, then he becomes the victim of an injustice. It remains unpunished. The child will hardly file a lawsuit against the police officer.
ZEIT ONLINE: Have you experienced something like this yourself?
Ly: Naturally. I experienced it, I saw it, I filmed it. I was ten when a policeman searched me for the first time.
ZEIT ONLINE: Can you describe what that did to you?
Ly: It is an assault, a humiliation. Why should it be good to check the same person anew every day? What is the purpose, if not humiliation, to keep them in check? That leaves fear, anger, hatred.
ZEIT ONLINE: The police who try to keep control in this way live in the same neighborhood. You also show that: you are neighbors. Is there a certain understanding for each other?
ZEIT ONLINE: In the film you explain the situation of the police officers.
Ly: For sure. They live there, they have a very low income themselves, but that in no way excuses their wrongdoing.
ZEIT ONLINE: What makes the film so remarkable is the tense atmosphere. Long before the violence actually breaks out, it is in the air. Where does it come from?