Tag Archives: Gavroche

Gavroche and his Family

The youngest two Thénardier children luck out by being raised by someone else and supported by someone with money…until their adoptive mother is arrested while they’re out playing. The five– and seven-year-old come home to find a neighbor telling them their family’s gone, and they need to go to the address of the man who’s been providing for them (well, his representative, anyway)…and then they lose the address.

It’s ironic: Marius spent years searching for the man as looking for the man who saved his father, hoping to repay him. His grandfather, who hated George Pontmercy, was already providing for two of Thénardier’s children. None of them ever find out, though. Gavroche doesn’t even know when they run into him and he takes them under his wing, showing them the ropes and taking them to the home he’s built in a disintegrating unfinished monument.

As for Gavroche, he’s no worse off on the street than his sisters are at home. And growing up without their parents has allowed him to turn out kind-hearted. Mischievous, sure. Irreverent, yes. A pest to those more fortunate than him, absolutely! Still, he instinctively helps those who need it the most, giving the coins to Mabeuf, his shawl to a homeless girl, the biggest piece of bread to one of the two lost kids he picks up, and so on. The Thénardiers would have jealously kept everything, and they taught their daughters to do the same.

Thénardier’s jailbreak is a page-turner. And then there’s the moment at the end, after Gavroche has climbed up a three-story wall with a rope to get him safely down.

Gavroche pauses, hoping for some sort of acknowledgement from his father. When he realizes it’s not coming — Thénardier is already planning his next “job” — Gavroche saunters off, casually remarking that he’s going to take care of “his” kids. It’s a rebuke that also passes unremarked. And the fact that those kids he’s taken in are also Thénardier’s abandoned children just adds another layer.

Montparnasse, who asked for Gavroche’s help in the first place, is already gone. Babet thinks the kid looked familiar. But Thénardier couldn’t even be bothered to look closely enough to recognize his own son.

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Mugging Fail

I love this scene: Montparnasse tries to rob Jean Valjean, but gets trounced and lectured to instead. And Gavroche picks the would-be-mugger’s pocket, leaving the coins for Mabeuf, whose hedge he’s hiding in.

It’s got quick reversals, irony, and over-the-top coincidence.

“Who was this old gent? The reader has probably guessed.” But Gavroche doesn’t know him, and he’s the viewpoint character for the scene, so the narrator dances around his name instead of giving it.

Incidentally, Gavroche is trying to steal apples – which is what Champmathieu was arrested for. Back in that chapter it was mentioned that it could be excused of a boy, but not a grown man.

These last few chapters bring back two looks at Valjean’s years as a prisoner: The chain gang being taken to prison, and his scare-em-straight tale to Montparnasse. The story has moved on, structurally…but of course Valjean isn’t allowed to move on. That’s the whole point of his arc, that society won’t let him just be, and always sees him as an ex-convict.

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Let’s meet Marius! Haha just kidding, here’s a street urchin first

A funny thing about Les Misérables: the first three parts are named after major characters, but they take forever to show up.

Part 1: Fantine takes 100 pages to get to her.
Part 2: Cosette starts with 45 pages on Waterloo.
Part 3: Marius picks up with Gavroche, then Marius’ grandfather.

It’s weird to see “gamin” rather than “urchin,” but it does convey a different sense – more childlike innocence.

Either way, we’re still talking about homeless kids.

Still on Paris urchin culture: “Attending executions counts as a duty.” I’m reminded of the opening lines of Pillars of the Earth: “The small boys came early to the hanging.” Different century, same macabre fascination.

Hugo really pours on his Paris-is-the-best-of-everything attitude in this chapter. Paris gamins are the only ones who aren’t doomed, Paris is the world in microcosm, “Paris is the greatest achievement of the human race.”

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The Wretched of the Earth

While the whole novel is built around justice for those downtrodden by society, there are five specific examples of poverty that Victor Hugo focuses on in Les Misérables:

Fantine is completely screwed over by the system, partly because options are fewer for women than men, and partly because of the stigma against unwed mothers.  Ultimately she ends up in the most degrading profession she can imagine, and dies from inadequate health care.

Marius, after falling out with his grandfather, chooses to take no money he hasn’t earned, and doesn’t earn very much. But he’s got options: he’s in school, and he has at least somewhat marketable skills, and of course there’s no stigma against young men. Plus he has a support network so he can crash at a friend’s apartment, or split the cost of the occasional social meal. He scrapes by in a crappy apartment until he earns his degree, but even then, he can’t quite pull himself out by himself, and it’s only after he (a) meets Cosette, who has money and (b) reconciles with his wealthy grandfather and moves back in with him that he’s able to enjoy a higher standard of living.

The Thénardiers, after they lose their inn, are in desperate straits, but rather than trying to scrape by, they do what they’ve always done: prey on society. They don’t seem to be very good at it, and while it’s hard to have any pity for the parents, it’s painful to read about how Éponine and Azelma live.

Gavroche, a child living on the streets. Of course, a child can get away with breaking a lot more rules than an adult can, and Gavroche is so optimistic he almost doesn’t care. Almost.

Finally, Pere Mabeuf, Marius’ friend who lives a modest but comfortable life off a book he published when he was younger, but as his work falls out of demand and he ages out of the job market, he is effectively done in by the lack of support for the elderly. Technically it’s a bullet that kills him, but he only ends up at the barricade because he’s reached the end of his rope and starts walking.

There are others: Valjean’s distant past (his role in the novel deals more with the flaws in the justice system than with economic class*), the voluntary austerity of Bishop Myriel and the nuns at the convent, the Thénardiers’ Parisian associates, and of course many nameless background characters, but these are the lives we get to see up close.

*It’s worth mentioning that as M. Madeleine, Jean Valjean is the only self-made man in the novel…and even he needed some seed money from an investor to get started.

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Revisiting the Movie Musical After Re-Reading the Novel

Les Misérables: Little CosetteSince it was seeing the movie last year that got me started on this project, I thought I’d watch Les Misérables again after I’d finished re-reading the whole novel and see how my impressions differed from my initial review.

I liked it a lot better this time through, in part because I knew what to expect, and in part because when you watch it at home, on TV, it’s less overwhelming when the entire screen is a close-up on the face of someone who’s in utter despair. Seeing it the first time in the theater, the first twenty minutes or so just tear you apart emotionally. Seeing it at home, there’s a little distance. It’s less effective, but it’s more bearable.

The movie is still stunning visually, whether it’s the sweeping vistas of Jean Valjean walking across France, or throngs filling the streets of 1830s Paris. I also liked a lot of the simpler visual choices, such as the moment where Jean Valjean casually sits down while telling Cosette not to ask questions about the past, and the candlesticks are right there, or when a tormented Valjean’s face appears half-lit, half in shadow.

Singing/Performance

As far as singing style goes, I think they made the right choice for the movie. As I said in my first review, musical theater is a blend of singing and acting (and often dancing), not singing that happens to have people in costume, and while stage acting relies heavily on body language so that the whole audience can see, movie acting is able to pull in close-up…and that’s exactly what they did. “I Dreamed a Dream” is a beautiful song. The way Anne Hathaway sings it here isn’t pretty, but it’s utterly devastating and perfect for the film, and if she had sung it with proper technique, it would have been completely wrong.

The approach doesn’t make for the best soundtrack, but I think it makes for a better movie. At least, it does for this movie.

Russell Crowe still grates as Javert, but not as much. In fact, there are some scenes where he’s fantastic. When he’s just being a policeman, and when the music is moving too fast for him to worry about trying to sing, he’s great. On the other hand, his first meeting with “M. Madeleine” is hard to listen to, and “Stars” just falls flat.

Still not entirely thrilled with the Thénardiers, but I did rather like teaching Éponine the ropes during “Master of the House.”

Adaptation: Novel, Stage Play, Movie

I was really impressed by how much this is an adaptation of both the stage musical and the novel. There are so many details, so many moments, so many character bits and story beats, that aren’t in the show but are drawn from the book.

Almost every story change pulls something from the novel: The convent of course, but also Marius threatening to blow up the barricade, Éponine concealing Cosette’s note, Gavroche delivering Marius’ note instead of Éponine, Javert admitting to Madeleine that he’d falsely denounced him. Javert even interviews the Thénardiers about Valjean and Cosette, though in the book the trail’s a lot colder by the time he gets there.

I like that they brought in Javert’s turmoil over having falsely accused the mayor (or thinking he did), because it’s an important character moment that informs his suicide years later. I don’t think it worked as well onscreen as it could have, though.

I’m more ambivalent toward Marius and the powder-keg. It works better if you already have the sense that he actually wants to die, rather than simply not minding if he does. It also works better if you understand that the attack was moments away from overrunning the barricade, which doesn’t come through onscreen.

I found myself trying to identify the students other than Marius, Enjolras, and Grantaire. I couldn’t. The book describes them individually (though once you get to the barricade, their personalities matter less than their presence), but in the show, they might as well be a chorus, and that’s still true in the film.

Cutting from Éponine’s death straight to Gavroche’s reaction at the end of “A Little Fall of Rain” really got to me. In this version of the story he probably doesn’t even know she’s his sister.

One problem I had this time through which I don’t think has ever bothered me about the show until now is the same thing that bothered me about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: After the move to Paris, everything happens at once. In the novel, a year passes between Marius and Cosette first noticing each other and the night of the barricades. There’s flirting from a distance, then seeking each other out, then finally a few magical weeks of secret meetings. Love at first sight is certainly easier to tell, but it’s harder to sell the characters’ most difficult choices…such as the powder-keg.

Musical Changes

Les Misérables Blu-Ray.Even now, I’m still on the fence about the musical and lyrical changes. Most of the changed lyrics are just to add exposition or fit a different setting. Some work better than others, but a lot of this type of change is in the recitative. The songs move so fast and are almost half-spoken, so they’re already a bit awkward. In a way, the changes that aren’t there for this reason stand out a bit more. Though I must admit that “Would you weep, Cosette, if I were to fall” sounds more natural than “…should Marius fall.”

The movie is about 20 minutes shorter than the original Broadway version, so a lot of introductions and connecting bits have been cut. And a few whole songs. Some I don’t mind, but I’m still mad that they cut the middle verses of “A Little Fall of Rain” and especially “Castle on a Cloud.” (I know, the 25th anniversary staging did the same thing, and it’s annoying there too.) The song’s barely a minute and a half to begin with. The twenty seconds saved here could have been regained tightening up one of the scenes they added.

Marius’ grandfather, while an interesting character in the book, doesn’t really add much to this version of the story. His existence serves to explain why they’re able to afford a nice wedding, and adds a bit of a class dynamic within the students, but he’s onscreen so little that I wonder why they bothered. As for that class dynamic, several of the other students are rich, too…including Enjolras. Saying “a game for a rich young boy to play” is rather disingenuous on his part.

“Suddenly,” like Javert’s confession to Madeleine, is a case where the character moment matters — it matters quite a lot in the book, as Valjean had reached another crossroads in life, and becoming a surrogate father not only filled the hole in his heart but kept him on the right path. But I sort of feel like it’s too early — it needs to be a few days in, at least, though I know there’s no good way to fit it anywhere else. And whenever it gets stuck in my head, it inevitably turns into either “Somewhere That’s Green” or “Someone Else’s Story.”

Overall

I do like the movie better on second viewing. I can’t think of anything I’ve actually reversed my opinion on, but there were a lot of aspects that were jarring the first time through just for being different, and listening to the soundtrack a few times and watching the film again (I still can’t believe it took me this long) has helped settle those out a bit into what I thought worked and what didn’t. And strangely enough, re-reading the book has enhanced the experience. There’s only one element I can think of that really bothered me specifically because of the novel, and that’s the timeframe.

I still wish they hadn’t been quite so merciless with the cuts, though. I wonder if there’s any possibility for an extended edition?

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