TIFF 2023: Ladj Ly's French movie 'Les Indésirables' tackles harsh reality of gentrification crisis

The film follows a young activist in a fictional Parisian suburb fighting against mass forced eviction

When it comes to the international films that were part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Ladj Ly's French movie Les Indésirables, stands out as a particularly moving and tense story.

The film begins are the unexpected death of the mayor of a Parisian suburb, making a doctor, Pierre (Alexis Manenti), the replacement.

One thing Pierre is taking on is a rehabilitation plan for a working-class neighbourhood, but the residents of this area, particularly a young Malian woman named Haby (Anta Diaw), refuse to see their community forced out of their homes.

"Originally I wanted to make a biopic on Claude Dilain, who is the ex-mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, who launched a campaign for a rehabilitation project," Ly explained to Yahoo Canada, through a translator.

"So I began working on it as a biopic and little by little, as the writing went on, I strayed away from Claude Dilain, but appropriated the topic in itself to make a film about eviction and expropriation."

Ly is quick to show the audience exactly where the story is going, starting with a scene where we see a casket being walked down sets of stairs in an apartment building in this Parisian suburb.

"This scene was very concrete access to what the entire film was going to show, the living conditions," Ly said. "There is this one line one of the actresses says, that we live here in difficulty and we die here in difficulty."

Les Indésirables from filmmaker Ladj Ly (Courtesy of TIFF)
Les Indésirables from filmmaker Ladj Ly (Courtesy of TIFF)

'I'm very proud to be able to participate in films that are social works'

As Ly stressed, the goal of his storytelling was the keep it a "personal" story, while providing different points of view with different characters.

"Rather than have a kind of a linear feel where you'd have one character going from point A to point B, it was going to be a kind of chorus film, which of course is always a lot of work to allow for each character to exist in their own right," he said.

Anta Diaw also highlighted that this story is close to her real life, in addition to Ly, growing up and still living in a similar area to the one shown in Les Indésirables.

"I've also encountered similar structures in the place that I was born and grew up, and still live today," Diaw said, through a translator. "A similar renovation plan, not of the same size, but similar in many ways, is being introduced."

"I also grew up in a building block like this one, smaller than the one in the film. ... I very much know the kind of help and solidarity that these people have no choice but to implement, because they're neglected at a political level."

One of the most impressive scenes in Les Indésirables is the moment when we see a group of people being evacuated from their apartment building, something that was actually being reflected in real life while shooting the film.

"It was the affair of three weeks to prepare and film it, and the conditions in which we filmed were very much carried by the reality of what this building was about to go through, because it had been evicted three weeks prior and it was going to be demolished a week later," Ly revealed. "So we were really working in a very, very short time lapse between the real life owners [that] had been evicted, and the tower was going to be destroyed."

"So having that setting of the actual unfolding of the event that we were showing, sort of around the days of the shooting, very much intensified the experience."

Ultimately, the actors who worked with Ly both praised his filmmaking and the meaningful movies he strives to make.

"I'm very proud to be able to participate in films that are social works and go beyond an entertainment purpose, ... that aspire to have an impact," Alexis Manenti said. "At the same time, are so intimate and personal and true."