Les MisÚrables: Location



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"Les Miserables" mobilized enormous resources by French filmmaking standards. The production used 3,000 costumes in styles spanning more than a century, and was filmed on more than 50 locations across France. Production designer JACQUES BUFNOIR, who had previously collaborated with Lelouch on six films, took on the huge task of building sets from a broad spectrum of time periods, settings and locations. By the film's end, Bufnoir had created 52 original sets.

Lelouch also turned to a group of musicians with whom he has collaborated many times over the years to create the musical context for his movie. These include composer FRANCES LAI and MICHEL LEGRAND, pianist ERIK BERCHOT, lyricist DIDIER BARBELIVIEN, and PHILIPPE SERVAIN. In a departure from conventional practice, he asked them to complete the music for "Les Miserables" before the picture was filmedso that the score became another performer in each scene, "an emotional beacon," says executive producer Tania Zazulinsky. "At certain times, the characters become imbued with this magic potion."

Asserts Lelouch, "It was an indispensable contribution, a type of little shove. I often put on the music at the same time as I began the cameras, using it as a supplementary guide, and that became the best director the actors could have had."

"Les Miserables" begins at the start of the century, with a glittering New celebration that soon leads to a man's suicide. Before we know it, another man the lowly Fortin is convicted of murder and serving time in a cruel prison.

The prison scenes were filmed at Fort Joux, a real jail hundreds of years old. forbidding setting brought a sense of gravity to all of the actors and an air of to the story of man's eternal suffering on Earth.

Meanwhile, Fortin's adoring wife and young son await his release and try their best to survive until they are re-united. However, it is not to be. Fortin suffers in jail and dies, and his wife is turned to prostitution by the venal innkeepers who employ her. The young Henri lives a miserable existence, swallowed by sorrow, until he is taught to box.

The inn where Fantine and Henri live, "Chez Guillaume," was constructed from a 90-year old fisherman's house at the foot of the Viller-sur-Mers cliffs in northern France. The elaborate nature of this set was particularly important to Lelouch, since he planned to use this same setting a second and even a third time within the film. As events developed, however, the inn, though it was used again, became the site for an unexpected but emotional sequence in the story and a new site for the film's conclusion.

After Henri Fortin leaves the inn and becomes a young soldier, the viewer encounters him about to begin a boxing match in an open hospital courtyard. He is surrounded by hundreds of wounded World War I soldiers; the year is 1918 and snow is falling heavily, giving the scene a hallucinatory air. Before the fight can begin, the end ofthe war is announced, and the soldiers begin joyously chanting "Fortin, Fortin!"

Scene after scene of spectacle and personal revelation follow, spanning decades and moving from elegant drawing rooms to wartime prisons to expansive outdoor landscapes. As the Nazi occupation of France begins to cast its shadow over the country, town after town and peaceful countrysides as well are transformed into terrifying traps for the Zimans and the thousands of other French Jewish families. The Zimans travel by train, by truck and by car, hiding in small towns and under floorboards, far from their home and fearing death every minute.

As they flee one house, merely steps ahead of their pursuers, they find themselves in the hands of Henri Fortin, and at the beginning of a friendship that is as strong as it is unlikely. Throughout the enormous events that follow for all of them, the focus remains on the personal fortunes, emotions and actions of the people who so fascinated Lelouch and his creative predecessor, Victor Hugo.

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