Les Misérables finally arrived in Colombia last Friday. I have been waiting for it for three months since it premiered in December in America.
It was very exciting and extremely gratifying to see the musical scenes unveil on the screen, after having seen musical 3 times previously and growing up with the soundtrack. It was amazing to live through the 19th century formation of Paris with its dirty streets and wretchedness that have been so realistically enlivened by the cinematic effects. The sublime scene of ship-docking by prisoners is possible only in the cinema. Jean Valjean and Marius are more alive than ever as the close-up shots bring them right in front of you, which was definitely more reassuring than watching the ant-like actors from a fifth floor towering balcony. It was also refreshing to see Wolverine and the Devil Wears Prada actress interpret the recognizable tunes so emotively.
I sat through the three hours easily and happily, congratulating myself for having introduced such great movie, Hugo’s apocalyptic story and amazing music to my five Colombian companions with an age range of 16 to 50. This was until I noticed that they were getting restless with their beard scratching and fidgeting..
They thought the film wasn’t very good, the songs didn’t touch them, the story was not realistic (but that’s not the point!), it was too long, the actors didn’t sing well, etc.. The tunes didn’t resonate with the Colombian ears, nor did the dark scenes (both literally and lyrically) appeal to the Colombian eyes. On the contrary, I immersed myself in the film. I found the individual solos poignant, and was absorbed by the actors who did so well in bringing alive the misery, pain and martyrdom of the period.
I was struck by how culture finds its way to our taste and preferences, just like a child grew up bearing his family name, customs, habits, and a whole load of baggage.. It was amazing to witness at firsthand how different tastes can be in different countries; the cognition of different nationalities or ethnicities. The story is practically unknown here, contrary to where I came from in the West (in loose quotation) where the longest running West End musical is such a familiar tale to the extent of cliché. The Les Misérables anecdote shows how we can make poor judgment through assumptions. It shows that we can’t read other cultures simply using what we have learnt in our lives.