Review notes for “Les Misérables” (1995)



Claude Lelouch’s 1995 film is more an adaptation of Hugo’s tale, rather than a filmed version of it. He explores the universal themes of the book and the pertinence of Hugo’s "message" to our history, here applying them to the French experience of Nazi Occupation during the Second World War.

This is the story of Henri Fortin (an excellent Jean-Paul Belmondo) who sees parallels between his own life and the stories of Valjean et al. It is also a tale of intolerance and love as told through the experiences of a Jewish family forced to flee Nazi persecution, and how they are helped by Henri Fortin whose evolution into a caring humanitarian forms the core of the film.

Told on a grand scale, Lelouch captures the essential humanity of his characters and has produced a gripping and moving film which is a fitting tribute to the original, a tale which gives us the story of an era through the lives of a myriad of characters, touching on themes of love, faith, revolution and tolerance, among many others (see below). He takes these universal themes and creates parallels between his own characters and those of Victor Hugo while giving us the story of a different era, but one which shares similar problems, thus emphasising the continued relevance and validity of Hugo’s original.

Some parallels are more successful and complete than others – here, the Javert character blindly follows orders, and may have doubts, but he is cruel and selfish, and it is difficult to have any sympathy for him. World War 2 replaces the 1832 attempted revolution, and the experiences of the original characters are mirrored in the experiences of the 1995 characters, though not always by their direct equivalents. M. Lelouch succeeds in tapping our emotions better than most of the more recent "straight" adaptations, and we have the fun of trying to "spot the parallel".

That Hugo’s themes/points should be equally applicable to an era 100 years after that of the original is testimony to Hugo’s insight and the strength of his narrative. However, it can also be regarded as a sad reflection on 20th century European history.

The music by Francis Lai (among others) brilliantly captures and enhances the film’s themes and emotions.


Writing task

You should aim at producing an outline of what the film is about – give only the broadest of outlines of events as this is an enormously complex story.

Choose one character you feel you can describe in some detail and say what he or she is like and how he or she changes in the course of the film.

Choose a theme and say how the characters illustrate it. This may be closely linked with the description of a character.

Finally, discuss your personal reaction to the film. You could say whether or not you liked it, and say why (or why not). Talk about whether or not it made you think (and about what). You could discuss the performances, the direction , and the music.


Character descriptions – some phrases and vocabulary to help you describe various characters.

J’ai trouvé le personnage de …

J’aime beaucoup … parce qu’il/elle est …

Je n’apprécie pas …. parce que ...

Je le/la trouve

Il/elle est très/fort/peu ….

C’est une qualité que je trouve (peu) admirable


Henri Fortin (père) et sa femme Catherine

simple                                                   loyal(e)

fidèle                                                    sincère

bon(ne)                                                responsable

décidé(e)                                              altruiste

dévoué(e)                                             peu instruit(e)


Henri Fortin (fils)

Comme son père, et on peut rajouter :

indépendant                                          cherche à s’intruire

Les Thénardier (à Arromanches et les fermiers)

étroit d’esprit                                        tordu

égoiste                                                  avare

prêt à profiter d’autres                          corrompu

jaloux                                                   amer



Le Policier

Il réfléchit peu

Il suit des ordres

Il n’accepte pas la responsabilité

Il ne se pose pas de questions

Il ne pense pas aux autres

Il n’est pas malin, mais il n’est pas bon – il suit le code de la société



Il y a énormément de thèmes dans ce film – choisissez-en un (ou un autre qui n’est pas dans la liste) et discutez-en, utilisant les évènements du film et les personnages pour illustrer votre point de vue.

La justice (l’injustice)                le mariage                     la moralité

La dévotion                              la loyauté                      l’enfance

La corruption                            l’altruisme                     la société

L’égotisme                               l’humanité                     la religion

L’anti-sémitisme                       la tolérance                   Suivre aveuglement les instructions



Réaction personnelle


J’ai trouvé ce film ….


A mon avis ce film est …


(peu) intéressant                             (peu) amusant              

décevant                                         touchant

émouvant                                        divertissant                                          


dans certaines scènes … dans d’autres ..


c’était                                             à la fois


ce film m’a  déçu



                              fait réfléchir  

c’était trop …         simple


Je ne peux pas dire que ….


Je le recommanderais à mes copains


Je crois qu’ils le trouveraient ….