Tag Archives: Gillenormand

Two Old Men in Decline

Pere Mabeuf’s final days are a slow slide into deprivation and despair. He sells the printing plates, the furniture, and finally moves onto his prized books for food. In the end he sells the last of them for medicine for Mere Plutarque…who probably won’t outlast him very long. With nothing left, he walks outside… and keeps walking.

M. Gillenormand is physically as comfortable as one could expect to be at 91 in 1832, but the man who arranged things so that Marius’ father would die before meeting his son again, is now afraid he’ll die before Marius returns. I suppose I should be sympathetic, but he earned that.

And the reunion, when it happens, doesn’t go well. At all. It’s interesting to see most of it from Gillenormand’s perspective, and the mismatch between what he wants to say and what he actually says. But even if he’d managed to get off on the right foot, I suspect their different outlooks would have gotten in the way. (Marius wants permission to marry Cosette so they can stay together. Gillenormand thinks he’s too young to tie himself down and not solvent enough to support a family, so why not just keep her as his mistress? What? His pure Cosette? How dare he!)

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Two Old Men

Pere Mabeuf: Kindly, his only political philosophy is “book-ism.” He can’t imagine why people would bother hating each other over such trivialities as political opinions when there are so many fascinating plants and books they could be exploring instead. Sadly, his hyper-focus causes him to miss the signs that his financial situation is deteriorating.

He’s really an underappreciated character.

M. Gillenormand (Marius’ grandfather): after reading the morning news, he rants about kids these days, their sloppy dressing, entitlement, disrespect for political systems that were good enough back in his day, disparages their masculinity, makes racist comparisons, and declares all news media a scourge.

It’s presented as ridiculous. And it is.

But it’s also depressing in how familiar it is, more than 150 years later. Not just that an old man is angrily shouting at the news, but that it’s what you’d expect from an old man shouting at the news today.

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Let’s introduce ALL of Marius’ grandfather’s friends (and then ignore them for the rest of the book)

Hugo has a tendency to thoroughly describe the setting and characters first, and then tell you what they do there. He actually describes the members of M. Gillenormand’s favorite salon in much the same way – and detail – as the ABC students, even though they disappear from the narrative quickly.

They’re the people Marius grows up around, which has an influence on him, and there’s a nice structural parallel with the people he ends up falling in with as an adult. And yeah, there’s the Titanic comparison, but still…

It’s like taking the time to introduce everyone who appears in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Or maybe Canto Bight, because the casino and the salon are both in the story to say something about society. The Cantina is mainly there to point out Luke’s naivete.

Don’t get me wrong, I remember Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina being a fun read, but A New Hope didn’t come to dead stop while we learned everyone’s backstory only to never see them again.

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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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Part 36: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Javert is no longer a threat to Jean Valjean, Marius is alive and reconciled with his grandfather, and he and Cosette have a chance to be together. But happy endings don’t just happen, you still have to build them.

Boulatruelle, the rascal of Montfermeil, shows up one last time when he misses the chance to catch Jean Valjean digging up the last of his buried treasure — the candlesticks, and the rest of the money he earned as M. Madeleine. Apparently Boulatruelle was too drunk during the extortion attempt for the police to be able to prove intent.

Marius’ slow recovery (he’s got both a shattered shoulder and severe head trauma) actually saves him from prosecution. By the time he’s well enough to arrest (three months), the authorities just want to put the whole matter behind them and not re-inflame public opinion.

His convalescence takes place entirely at home, with house calls from the doctor. These days, he would have spent his months of coma/delirium in the hospital. Back in 1832, it’s probably just as well he didn’t, because this was before people understood germs and the need for sanitation.

M. Gillenormand doesn’t pay much attention to names, and manages to get Valjean’s alias wrong — “M. Tranchelevent” even after he’s been inquiring after Marius’ condition on a daily basis for four months, and even after researching this Cosette girl whom Marius seems so fond of.

He’s also so relieved to have Marius back that he abandons all his old political views in favor of everyone under his roof being happy.

Once Marius is well enough to be aware of his surroundings, he’s all set to have to fight to see Cosette…and his grandfather says, oh, yeah, her father stops by every day to check on you, now that you’re awake, you can see her tomorrow. They’re engaged by December, a February date chosen based on the doctor’s advice.

“Marius, my boy, you are a baron and you are rich. Don’t, I beseech, you, waste your time lawyering.” – G.

Identity

“No lengthy explanation is needed…” but here’s one anyway…

Valjean goes to a lot of trouble to separate Cosette from his own legal troubles (and her own murky past). He establishes a fake family history for her, claiming to be not her adoptive father but her biological uncle. The real Fauchelevent isn’t around to dispute the claim anymore, and the nuns never really paid attention to which Fauchelevent “brother” was Cosette’s father, so they’re happy to sign off on it. He also fakes an injury so that he can’t sign any papers related to the marriage, since doing so might invalidate them. Meanwhile the money from Madeleine’s factory is placed in a trust in Cosette’s name, bequeathed anonymously. It turns out she’s rich, although her father — uncle — whatever — isn’t.

Marius and Valjean never speak of their experiences at the barricade. Actually they don’t speak much at all, though every once in a while they find something to talk about, like the importance of free education.

As Marius recovers, he sets about looking for his father’s rescuer and his own, in order to pay his debts to them before starting life with Cosette. No luck on either account, as Thénardier has gone to ground (having been sentenced to death in absentia), his wife has died in prison, and no one recognized the man who brought Marius to the door with Javert — not even Gillenormand’s doorman.

The Wedding

I love when Hugo gets sarcastic, as when he describes wedding traditions. “The chastity and propriety of whisking one’s paradise into a post-chaise to consummate it in a tavern-bed at so much a night, mingling the most sacred of life’s memories with a hired driver and tavern serving maids, was not yet understood in France.” … “There was a strange belief in those days that a wedding was a quiet family affair…”

Another quote that makes me think Hugo would do well as a commentator today: “We do not see a Mardi gras like that any more. Since everything is now an overblown carnival, carnivals no longer exist.”

Mardi Gras

I can’t help but read this as meta-commentary: “Paris, let us admit it, is very ready to be amused by what is ignoble. All she asks of her masters is – make squalor pleasant to look at.” Certainly the parodies of the musical like to point this out: “Les Mousserables”‘ “Mixed Emotions” rating, or Forbidden Broadway’s line about “Rich folks pay fifty bucks a shirt / that has a starving pauper on it.” The novel is a call for social change, but that element is a lot thinner when you remove it by 150 years and condense the story into a three-hour piece of entertainment, even when you make the effort to show things as gritty and painful as they did in the movie.

Azelma finally gets something to do! She and her father, the last surviving Thénardiers, spot the wedding procession, and her father sets her to research the couple.

Chapter title: “Jean Valjean still has his arm in a sling.” Ooh, how exciting!

Cosette’s dress is beautiful. So is Marius’ hair. Also, now that they’re married, Marius can stare at “the pink objects vaguely to be discerned beneath the lace of her corsage.” Hubba hubba.

Cosette jokes: “It’s true. My name is now the same as yours. I’m Madame You”

Out of curiosity, I checked the 1887 (Isabel Hapgood) translation of that line and noticed on the same page the following phrase: “their griefs were but so many handmaidens who were preparing the toilet of joy.” I know the word’s changed its meaning, but I just couldn’t stop laughing at “the toilet of joy.”

Théodule is of course at the wedding, which makes me wonder what he was up to during the revolt back in June. He’s stationed in the city, so he probably would have been involved in the fighting. Come to think of it, I’m surprised Hugo didn’t use the opportunity to show a view of the insurrection from the other side…or at least a conversation between cousins. I’m not sure we ever see him and Marius interact at all.

The old man who used to rant at the slightest provocation is now rambling about joy and love at, well, the slightest provocation. It’s a complete reversal.

G: “That in fact there are unhappy people is a disgrace to the blue of the sky.” — I’m not sure if he’s offended by the circumstances that make people unhappy or that the unhappy people exist.

Don’t get your hopes up for too happy an ending to Les Misérables, though. Even if you haven’t seen the play or movie, you know the title.

Pages covered: 1110-1139, more or less. A few bits of Valjean’s legal maneuverings are actually revealed a little bit later, in the conversation with Marius after the wedding, but this seemed like a better way to break things up. Image by Jeanniot from an unidentified edition of Les Misérables, via the Pont-au-Change illustration gallery.

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