Busan: French Oscar Hopeful Voices Support for Hong Kong Protesters

Ladj Ly - H 2019
Courtesy of Getty Images

'Les Miserables' director says people should not be satisfied 'if the government is not doing what it has to do.'

French international feature Oscar hopeful Ladj Ly has expressed support for the anti-government protesters who have hit the streets of Hong Kong over the past four months, saying their anger comes from a sense of governmental inaction.

“If the government is not doing its job then it is more than normal that the population will go out in the streets to demonstrate, so I can only support them,” said Ly on the sidelines of the Busan International Film Festival. “In Hong Kong, the protests have been going on for several months and I think you cannot be satisfied if the government is not doing what it has to do.”

Ly’s Les Miserables has been critically acclaimed since making its debut at Cannes and was recently put forward as France’s submission for next year’s Academy Awards.

The French director was careful to point out that he was in no way supporting violence, only suggesting that for some people — sometimes — it might seem the only course of action. "The background of my story is a very violent situation," said Ly. "I really emphasize that I don’t accept or support violence, but sometimes it cannot be helped."

He continued: "I’m not pro-violence, but sometimes violence can help you to obtain things. You can see that in history, for example, with the French Revolution. It was the violence that made the French Revolution succeed. Also, in 2005 you had the revolt in the Paris suburbs."

Concluded the director: "I think we have seen in history how you begin with talk and if talk doesn’t work it moves to violence. You saw in France in 2005 that there were talks at the start but when the talks went nowhere the people became violent. It was only at that time that government became interested."

Hong Kong has been rocked by anti-government protests stretching back four months. They started in response to government moves to introduce an extradition bill, but have more recently expanded, with demonstrators targeting allegations of police brutality and perceived encroachment of mainland China into the city, which returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Ly’s film lifts its title from Victor Hugo’s French Revolution classic, but the action takes place in contemporary Paris and looks at what happens when a police team is overpowered by protesters.

Ly told press in Busan he thought the recent “Yellow Jacket" protests in Paris were an example of what happens when a government ignores the mood of the people. “When the Yellow Jacket movement in France got a response from the government, it was only through police violence,” he said. “When you have violence in front of you from policemen you can only reply with violence.”

The Busan festival continues until Oct. 12.