January 7, 2020 – This film about social injustice, police violence and mob violence is set in the mean streets of Les Bosquets, a part of the Paris suburb of Montfermeil. Like its namesake, set in the same area, it is a story about the downtrodden and abused elements of society, and their interactions with police, primarily told from the point of view of a policeman who is new to the beat, Stéphane (played by Damien Bonnard).
Stéphane has transferred here from a less violent area in order to be closer to his son, living with his mother after a divorce. He is immediately thrust into a powder keg in his new job on an anti-crime squad, trying to work with two corrupt cops, Chris (played by Alexis Manenti) a dangerous, racist bully, and his more laid back partner, Gwanda (Djebril Zonga) who grew up in this area and knows the language and customs of the locals.
Chris is fiercely hated by the local youths because of his habit of harassing and assaulting them. He shows the locals no respect, and they don't respect him, either. He rules by fear, but the locals would like nothing better than an opportunity to get even with him.
Chris and Gwanda have worked out an uneasy alliance with some local organized crime figures, and the local mayor (played by Steve Tientcheu). The Mayor finds himself in hot water with some gypsies from a circus. A local boy, Issa (played by Issa Perica) steals a lion cub from the circus and the gypsies threaten the mayor with violence unless he produces the cub. Chris, Gwanda and Stéphane break up the argument and try to find the missing cub.
They finally track down Issa at a local playground, but when they try to cuff him, they are attacked by a large group of angry youths. In the attack, Gwanda accidently shoots Issa with a flashball, injuring him. The lion cub is finally found and returned to the circus, where Issa is held in front of a grown lion by a gypsy and scared half to death.
This is a very suspenseful film with a keen eye for the tension between the police and the locals. There is a very nice scene between Stéphane and an imposing local religious leader affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Salah (Almamy Kanouté) after Chris had almost started a riot trying to forcibly take an incriminating drone video of the Issa incident from a local boy. Stéphane convinces Salah that nobody would win if another riot got started.
The police go home to their relatively peaceful lives, and can unwind from the pressures of the day, but back in Les Bosquets, the seething anger never rests. The police think the crisis is over, but the worst is yet to come. Issa and the other local youths are angry over this incident, and they plot their revenge.
This is a very impressive debut fictional film from documentary filmmaker Ladj Ly. The story is compelling and the acting is convincing. The pace, and the tension, never let up. This film rates a B.
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