Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Victor Hugo. Scen.: Riccardo Freda, Mario Monicelli, Steno, Nino Novarese. F.: Rodolfo Lombardi. M.: Otello Colangeli. Scgf.: Guido Del Re. Mus.: Alessandro Cicognini. Int.: Gino Cervi (Jean Valjean), Valentina Cortese (Cosetta, Fantine), Andreina Pagnani (Suor Simplicia), Giovanni Hinrich (Aldo Nicodemi), Aldo Nicodemi (Marius), Ugo Sasso (il capo dei rivoluzionari), Marcello Mastroianni (un rivoluzionario), Gabriele Ferzetti (l’amante di Fantine). Prod.: Carlo Ponti per Lux Film 35mm. D.: 188′. Bn.
I had read Hugo’s novel a lot from childhood onwards, and I had suggested a certain number of ideas to my screenwriters, Novarese, Steno and Monicelli. As always, we shared our visions of the novel. In my opinion, adapting Hugo was rather easy because he is a great screenwriter: the characters and dialogue are there, and the sets are described. On the whole, I was faithful to the novel, at least in the story’s evolution. But I felt Valjean was supposed to be a hero and not a character burdened by his past. He does not ask metaphysical questions nor reflect on the meaning of good and evil; he does what he wants. My film deliberately begins with the classic ingredients of a Western: shooting, Valjean’s arrest and his attempt to escape. Up until the story’s end, my Valjean acts as he wishes and never tries to redeem himself. Within all the human misery described by Hugo, I wanted a rectifier of wrongs, like the Black Eagle or, later on, Casanova or Maciste”.
Riccardo Freda in Eric Poindron, Riccardo Freda, un pirate à la caméra. Entretiens, Institut Lumière – Actes Sud, Arles 1994
Freda’s Les Misérables is first and foremost a dynamic work in continual progression, like a forest of destinies on the march, where Jean Valjean stands out, as the director wanted as little moralizing as possible. This general movement of the film values each character’s relationship with his or her surroundings, captured by what seems to be an extremely alive camera and the sharp eye of the filmmaker. The way in which Jean Valjean embraces the space in the quarry as he prepares to escape; the way in which Fantine looks at the snow-covered square where she will go to ‘work’; the way in which Cosette fears the adults’ space, which she sees from under the table where she usually escapes; the way in which Javert sees himself as if through a grate, suddenly separated from the world, before throwing himself into the Seine: here are some of the questions the answers to which, written into the production, foster the story’s incessant movement. This film is only apparently expensive, infact this version of Les Misérables produced by Lux was backed by a relatively low budget which often stimulated the director’s imagination but sometimes blocked it.
Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma. Les films, Robert Laffont, Paris 1992