Film adaptations of the works of Victor Hugo

The writer Victor Hugo is considered by many the great exponent of French Romanticism. Author of novels, poems and plays that marked the history of literature, the 19th century writer extends his influence to the present day, having several works adapted to the cinema (some, more than once). Therefore, we selected three films inspired by the stories of the famous novelist. The list will follow the chronological order of release of the films.

Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo. | Photo: Montage/ Wikipedia

Works by Victor Hugo adapted for the cinema

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

The Man Who Laughs
Movie poster – Photo / Playback: The Movie Database

The plot of “The Man Who Laughs” revolves around the protagonist Gwynplaine, an orphan boy who is kidnapped and has his face disfigured. His scar, in the corners of his lips, leaves him with the expression of a constant “smile”. The plot is permeated by social criticism, themes dear to the French author. It should be noted that the motto of the protagonist rejected for being considered “disfigured” also appears in “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, work that will be commented on in the next topic of this list. The recurring discussions and reflections in Hugo’s work also set the tone for the black and white film directed by Paul Léni.

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notredame
Movie poster. | Photo / Reproduction: The Movie Database

The Disney Studios film is a free adaptation of the French author’s original work – and the significant script changes do not detract from the merit and shine of the excellent animation. The film features the bell-ringer of the Parisian cathedral – Quasimodo, the “hunchback” who gives the work its title. According to the gypsy Clopin, his name means “half-formed” – returning to the already mentioned topic of the character rejected by issues related to appearance. Quasimodo falls in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, but the ecclesiastical judge Claude Frollo (in the book, a priest), tutor to the bell ringer, also has desires for the girl. Hugo’s reflections on prejudice and religious fanaticism are present in the animated film, although softened for children. Highlight for the powerful soundtrack by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, regular presences (and oscarized) in Mickey’s studio films. It is also worth mentioning that this book by Hugo has also had other adaptations, including for musical theater, with the Canadian singer Garou in the main role.

The miserable (2012)

The miserable
Movie poster. | Photo / Reproduction: The Movie Database

Certainly Victor Hugo’s best-known work – which can be attributed, among other factors, to the depth of his social reflections -, the story is carried out by Jean Valjean. It is about an ex-convict who, marginalized by this condition, seeks his redemption and becomes the respectable mayor of a small town. However, Inspector Javert harbors suspicions about Valjean’s past (who, by this time, had adopted the name Madeleine).

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne. Hattaway’s performance stands out, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her moving performance as Fantine.

By Gabriela Brahim Correa – Speak! Cruzeiro do Sul University

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