After a nearly hour-long introduction set in the 19th century, this inventive take on the Victor Hugo novel transports the familiar storyline to World War II territory. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Henri Fortin, a humble blue-collar worker whose life, Gump-like, takes him through some of the conflict's most momentous events. A furniture mover, he helps a wealthy Jewish family (Michel Boujenah, Alessandra Martines and Salome, Lelouch's real-life daughter) try to escape the German occupation forces and reach Switzerland; becomes involved with the French Resistance; participates in D-Day; and, postwar, crosses paths with a Nazi sympathizer turned police chief, in but one of the movie's many prismatic refractions of the Hugo tale and the experiences of its true and simple Jean Valjean.Reportedly France's most expensive production ever, unlike "Waterworld" it's all on the screen. Its two-century narrative used 3,000 costumes and 50 locations, and even recreated the Normandy invasion in surprisingly effective fashion. But, despite the epic scope, the masterful Claude Lelouch makes sure "Les Miserables" never loses its focus on the human; the good-hearted efforts of Henri and the wartime tragedies that befall the Jewish family are profoundly moving and yet carry a philosophic punch much like the novel. It's an odd acquisition for Warner Bros., what with the French-language dialogue and three-hour running time, but word of mouth could well keep this one going through the holidays, when the title "Les Miserables" is likely to appear near the apex of critics' top-10 lists. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alessandra Martines and Michel Boujenah. Directed, written and produced by Claude Lelouch. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Rated R for violence, brief language and sexuality. Running time: 174 min.