And the Best Picture is… Les Misérables (but that’s just me)

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star

Critics grade films according to certain criteria. And though no two award-giving bodies (i.e., The Golden Globes and the Oscars) produce an identical twin of the other’s roster of winners, most awardees are truly deserving.

 Argo, which won Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards (“The Oscars”) yesterday morning, tells the story of a great escape from Iran almost 30 years ago. It is a period movie that tries to replicate the plot of a true story that occurred in a past distant enough to require painstaking research, but recent enough to be vividly remembered.

Director and producer Ben Affleck’s feat is that the movie hardly seems like a movie but an exciting documentary in real time — part 24 (of Kiefer Sutherland), part Sound of Music (Oh, how the protagonists outwitted the enemy!), part Eskapo (the great escape from prison of the late Geny Lopez and Serge Osmeña, particularly the airport runway scenes).

The main character Tony Mendez (portrayed by Affleck himself) exists and was a modern-day Moses from the CIA who led his compatriots home. It is an all-American movie that celebrates a cherished right: freedom.


But in my heart’s criteria, the Best Picture award goes to a movie I cannot seem to extricate from the grasp of my thoughts.

Les Misérables, directed by Frank Hooper and produced by Cameron Mackintosh (he who picked Lea Salonga for Miss Saigon), clings like a potsticker to my mind. And it stews there, with feel-good vibes rising.

I first read the Victor Hugo classic about the continuing struggle against oppression after the French Revolution in my grandfather Igmedio Reyes’ trove of Classics Illustrated comic books, along with The Count of Monte Cristo, The Corsican Brothers, The Black Tulip. John Valjean was one of the first heroes of fiction that I admired.

Les Misérables was also the first musical I saw on Broadway, in mid-1989. I watched it with officials of the Aquino administration (like then Cabinet Secretary Ping de Jesus and Presidential Broadcast Staff chief Maria Montelibano), during a trip to New York before President Aquino’s state visit to the US. One night, after a series of meetings, our group decided to watch the play.

The EDSA People Power Revolution, whose 27th year we just celebrated, was still fresh in our minds and hearts. Despite being jetlagged, I was so suffused with emotion while watching the musical, because I had witnessed a similar upheaval in the Philippines. It was as if I were watching an older version of the Philippine experience. Every hero and heroine in the French struggle had a counterpart at EDSA.

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start

When tomorrow comes!

 (The Chorus)                                     

Tomorrow came for us Filipinos.


But more than its emotional link to EDSA, for which my family and I (who was then with child, now a 26-year-old bank manager) risked our lives, Les Misérables reminds us all of how often good and evil duel in this world, and how, no matter how wretched or despondent, redemption is possible for every man.

Most of all, Les Miz underscores how kindness is mightier than the lash in transforming a man, and that ultimately, it is by showing others the “face of God” that we are able to save them — and ourselves.

In Les Miz, ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), condemned to prison for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew, and for subsequent escape attempts, finds it hard to get by after he is paroled. No one is willing to take him in or give him a job. Desperate, he steals silver from the only human being, a priest, who shows him kindness.

When caught with the stolen goods and presented to the priest, Valjean is astounded. Instead of sealing Valjean’s fate with the gallows, the priest tells the police he had given Valjean the silver he was accused of stealing,  but that he left too early “before I could give him these (a pair of even more valuable silver candelabra).”

Thus begins the turnaround in the life of Valjean. His redemption. The priest’s act of kindness triggers ripples of more kindness and selflessness — this time from Valjean, who now treats every abused human being he meets with the kindness he received from the priest. He becomes the face of God to many, including to a desperate single mother-turned-prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway, who has won two Best Supporting Actress awards for her portrayal of Fantine) and her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).

Somewhere in the movie, Fantine sings to Valjean: “Take my hand and lead me to salvation, take my love for love is everlasting, and remember the truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God.”


The character of Javert (Russell Crowe) is fascinating because it teaches us to delay, if not refrain from, judging people. Javert reminds me of several military men whose loyalty to duty tears them apart when they are faced with a choice — duty or compassion? Many soldiers felt this at EDSA. Javert receives compassion from Valjean when he (Javert) was staring at the barrel of a gun, and he later reciprocates when he spares Valjean’s life when he and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) were escaping from the barricades.

But sometimes, some people do not know how to handle kindness and marry principle and compromise. Some strong men (and women) do not realize that kindness is not a weakness, and being humane is not an anathema to duty.


The final scenes of the tearjerker Les Miz is part morality play, part fairy tale, part MMK (of Charo Santos-Concio.)

God’s work on earth should really flow from our hands, and the best reward for a life well lived is a rousing welcome to heaven and eternal life. That’s what our faith tells us, that’s what we believe, and so far, no one has come back from yonder to tell us it isn’t so.

The hope-filled lives he left behind, watered and nourished by every small and big act of kindness that he had given, is the bouquet on Valjean’s grave.

These mini-plots unravel against the backdrop of a France in the throes of true freedom, and the movie ends with every good man riding into the… sunrise!

Do you hear the people sing

Lost in the valley of the night

It is the music of a people

Who are climbing to the light


For the wretched of the earth

There is a flame that never dies

Even the darkest night will end

And the sun will rise. (from the Epilogue)








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