On ‘Les Miz,’ Paris and the Picassos: Pablo, Paloma and My Then-Fiancé Claude

Guest blog: It was at this moment that I felt closest to the family — I could feel Paloma’s need to do something to draw attention to herself

Seeing "Les Misérables" reminded me of the sadness I felt in Paris. It’s a wonderful city to be sad in in a movie, but in real life it offers up a sadness like no other.

Parisian values are different for an American. I was living with a Picasso. Fear of what people thought seemed to be the mantra. The raison d’etre. I wished my then-fiancé Claude Picasso had been Pablo who wanted to live life like a poor man with money.

I never thought of myself as a Communist, but I guess I have a bit of that blood. After all, Pablo was a Communist, but Claude loved the idea of wealth. When Claude was a child, the Russians came to visit Picasso — who pulled a gun on them and "They shit in their pants," Claude would say as he regaled in telling this story. 

Picasso was a prankster, but the Family Picasso was not. Oh, there was the prank Paloma pulled when she filmed her soft porn film, Borowczyk’s "The Immoral Tales," playing the queen who took a bath in the blood of virgins. (It was actually pig’s blood.) My, did the family protest. Her mother, Francoise Gilot, burned the pictures from Paris Match  in their oven.

It was at this moment that I felt closest to the family. I could feel Paloma’s need to do something to draw attention to herself. After all her father was still alive and perhaps would see this film and be amused by it. But her father was the outrageous one. Her mother was the bourgeois.

All these thoughts streamed through my mind as I watched the now Oscar-nominated "Les Misérables."

Best Picture? I'm not sure why.

If you've seen "Les Miz" on Broadway and heard its soaring score, you will have a problem sitting through Tom Hooper's movie, which diminishes this powerful score and ups the ante in the story. 

"Les Miz" is a musical of musicals, but I longed for choirs singing the lilting songs rather than actors shored up with as much back-up that Hollywood and the talented Ann Dudley could muster. It did not matter much that the actors were singing while acting — what mattered was the loss of a real live thunderous choir. 

Victor Hugo's story is well-known. It begins in 1815 and lasts until the June rebellion in 1832. In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. He becomes known as prisoner 24601 and is played by the dynamic and yet tender-hearted Jackman. After serving his sentence, Valjean is released to serve a life of parole under the grip of relentless Inspector Javert — played by Russell Crowe.

Hugh Jackman is sensational, but Crowe's performance is pitiful — as is his voice. Valjean escapes from Javert's custody and in the process stumbles upon factory worker Fantine (the sensational Anne Hathaway) being violated and savagely beaten. Valjean takes Fantine to a hospital where she dies as she laments the welfare of her little girl, Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried. Sacha Baron Cohen, who blows his gasket in all the right moments, and Helene Bonham Carter have been caring for Cosette under unfit conditions.

Valjean rescues Cosette, all the while running from Javert. Years pass and Cosette grows up to be a stunning teenager played with the appropriate wide-eyed get-me-out-of-here-daddy kind of expression. Valjean has become Cosette's father of sorts while we have the June rebellion all around us and about to pop. Cosette meets Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and falls in love with him while revolutionary Eponine (Samantha Banks, the real sleeper in the film) is also in love with him.

Selfless Eponine realizes Marius loves Cosette and not her, and she begins to deliver messages from Marius to Cosette as her heart breaks. Banks' singing matches the Oscar-nominated Hathaway's, and in my opinion surpasses it. As for Jackman's voice, it's magical, his tenderness oozing out of his every pore.

Still, this film poses the question: Can a successful Broadway musical be turned into a successful movie? Sure it's been done, but this is not it.

Carole Mallory is an actress, journalist, professor, film critic. Her film credits include “Stepford Wives” and “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” As a supermodel she graced the covers of Cosmopolitan, New York, Newsweek. Her new novel, "Flash," hit #22 on Kindle's bestseller list of erotica in its first day of release. She also has written a memoir of her time with Norman Mailer, “Loving Mailer.”  After the writer's death, she sold her archive of his papers to Harvard. Her journalistic pieces on Vonnegut, Jong, Vidal, Baryshinikov, Heller have been published in Parade, Esquire, Playboy, Los Angeles Magazine, the Huffington Post. Her review of Charles Shields' biography of Kurt Vonnegut, "And So It Goes," was published in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer.  She is teaching creative writing at Temple University and Rosemont College and blogs at malloryhollywoodeast@blogspot.com.