November 06, 1995 12:00 PM

Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michel Boujenah, Alessandra Martines

Director Claude Lelouch has taken Victor Hugo’s fat, beloved novel about injustice in France at the start of the 19th century and used it . as the springboard into a fat, 3-hour movie about injustice in France in the 20th century, particularly under the Nazi occupation.

Lelouch’s hero (Belmondo), a onetime boxer who now owns a moving company, helps a comfortably-off Jewish family (Boujenah and Martines) escape from Paris to Normandy in the 1930s. En route they discuss the plot of the Hugo novel, and the barely literate Belmondo begins drawing parallels with his own life. For example, Belmondo’s father, like Hugo’s Jean Valjean, was wrongly convicted of murder and tried to escape a hellish prison.

This sort of literary connect-the-dots is tedious, and things get worse when Lelouch crosscuts to actual episodes from the book. But why stop there? Why not show Hugo sitting down after a good meal, pen in one hand, stogie in the other, embarking on a new chapter? Or perhaps a shot of trees, their branches trembling in proud anticipation of being felled, processed into pulp and bound into yet another paperback edition?

There are reams of subplot running through the movie, which culminates in the Allied invasion of Normandy, but most everything is cheesy-looking, closer to miniseries than epic standard. (R)

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