Toronto, Canada: Four years after lighting up the Croisette in Cannes with his first feature film, Les Misérables, Ladge Lee returns with a new and deeply personal portrait of life in the working-class neighborhoods of the Parisian suburbs.
Building 5, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, examines the worsening housing crisis against a backdrop of racial tensions, poverty, bias and police misconduct.
For the 45-year-old director, who was inspired by his childhood in the towns of Clichy-Montfermeil, the reality of the suburbs “hasn’t really evolved” since his first film.
“The suburbs are where I grew up, and it is an area close to my heart,” Ladge told me during an interview with AFP on Saturday.
“There are different issues – displacement, gentrification,” he explains, stressing that “many residents were evicted to be housed in more deteriorated or remote neighborhoods.”
“It’s a problem that affects a lot of people, in France or elsewhere abroad, in big cities, in the United States, in Brazil or elsewhere,” he adds.
In Building 5, the story revolves around Happy (Anta Diao), a young housing rights activist who lives in a suburb whose mayor suddenly dies, leading to the appointment of idealistic young doctor Pierre (Alexis Manenti) as mayor. .
While Pierre continues with his predecessor’s urban redevelopment plans, Happy and other residents of his dilapidated building try to resist the evictions.
Tensions rise when a tragic fire in an underground restaurant prompts the new mayor to evacuate the building. Hapi then enters politics, while his friend Balaz, desperate and angry, decides to take matters into his own hands, with disastrous consequences.
For Anta Diao, this photo shoot was “a very extraordinary experience,” although some of the more extreme scenes, such as the painful lowering of a loved one’s coffin down a narrow staircase, could have been particularly difficult.
“When I was called to the set and discovered this coffin, there, in the middle of the room, that’s right, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t think it would affect me this much,” the young actress reveals. “It took me five minutes to refocus.” “
– ‘Somewhat personal’ story –
Ladj-Lee’s career took off quickly thanks to his debut work, Les Misérables, which premiered at Cannes in 2019 and won the Jury Prize.
In all, the film won four César Awards, including Best Picture, as well as an Academy Award nomination. Alexis Manenti received the César Award for Most Promising Man in 2020.
In this new work, his character, Pierre, a white man living in a neighborhood populated mainly by people of color, is forced to navigate the volatile vicissitudes of local politics, while trying to maintain his job as a doctor and his family life. .
“He’s someone who wants to make things happen and does it in a fairly radical way,” the actor points out when talking about his role. “He believes he is right, and above all, he believes the end justifies the means,” he explains.
But when he evacuates the building after a fire at the illegal diner, leaving the residents only a few minutes to prepare their property for an uncertain future, nothing goes right.
The film, inspired by real events, aims to talk about “the housing problem” in a world where today there is no one with “real political ambitions to change the lines,” as Ladj Lee asserts.
The French director, whose parents are from Mali, is still toying with the idea of making a third part, which he “will do much later.”
“It turns out that the tower, Building 5, is the tower I grew up in,” he says, adding: “I was evicted from that tower to be rehoused, so it’s a very personal story for me.”