Directed by Jacques Audiard
Dheepan is a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who flees to France and ends up working as a caretaker outside Paris.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
The 2015 Cannes Film Festival jury shocked everyone when they awarded Jacques Audiard the Palme d’Or for his social realist drama turned hyper-violent thriller, Dheepan. This decision was met with very mixed reactions on social media. People seemed to be confused about why a film that didn’t receive much buzz when it premiered during the festival was taking the top prize. Others were just surprisingly pleased. I fall into the latter category, as Dheepan is an extraordinary achievement on a number of levels: its concentration on the frightening reality of escaping one war zone for another, as well as its simultaneous micro-level commentary on French poverty and macro-level commentary on civil war in Sri Lanka (or simply civil war, in general).
Dheepan tells the story of its titular character and his attempt to rebuild his life after his wife and children were killed in Sri Lanka. He, a woman he meets at random, and an abandoned nine-year-old girl they found come together as a faux family in an attempt to escape the Sri Lankan civil war for a better life in France. Unfortunately, the area of France that they move into is dominated by gangs who use the territory for distribution of narcotics and other illegal activities. Dheepan is forced to sit back and watch as the environment he has brought his makeshift family unit into becomes more and more dangerous, and eventually he reaches his breaking point.
Although there are hints of Audiard’s fascination with international politics in his 2008 film, Un Prophete, Dheepan doesn’t feel like anything the director has done before. The biggest reason for this his choice to portray Sri Lankans in a French environment, rather than the French themselves as Audiard has primarily done in the past.
If one is going to discuss Dheepan, it’s difficult to do so without commenting on its explosive ending. The film retains great suspense throughout, as it implies the family’s eventually going to get mixed up in some sort of intense or violent encounter, but it’s hard to predict the final fifteen minutes. Those who have seen Un Prophete know that Audiard is capable of executing abrupt and graphic acts of violence in truly shocking ways, but he takes this idea to its extreme in Dheepan. No other film that I saw at Cannes this year affected me in such a visceral way.
That being said, it’s difficult to make up one’s mind on an ethical level about the penultimate sequence. In war there is often no clear “good” side, and knowing who to cheer for can be difficult. But somehow, Audiard convinces us to love the main character even when he is delusional or violent or straddling the line between protagonist and anti-hero. It’s a complex ending and one that will take repeat viewings to fully understand. But it’s not a perfect film. Dheepan nearly forgets about one of its characters in the third act and the ending feels a bit out-of-place despite being refreshing and uplifting. However, the minor flaws are completely overshadowed by everything that it does right. Dheepan fully deserves the enormous accolade it received and is sure to continue receiving as the rest of the world is exposed to it.
★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
To address the elephant in the room: No, “Dheepan“ probably shouldn't have won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival. An understandably controversial choice at the time, it wasn't even the festival's best feature about the psychic perils of migrating into central Europe (that honor goes to Jonas Carpignano's studied and unflinching "Mediterranea," which premiered as part of the International Critics' Week program). For director Jacques Audiard to snag his industry's greatest prize for "Dheepan" instead of his greater earlier efforts, "The Beat that My Heart Skipped" and "A Prophet," is roughly tantamount to Martin Scorsese landing the Best Director Oscar for "The Departed" instead of "Taxi Driver" or "Goodfellas."
And yet, "Dheepan" is peak Audiard, in that it represents everything that makes him one of the most exciting forces in contemporary French cinema — both the good and the bad. It's almost too perfect a fit for a filmmaker who exclusively tells stories about people who suffer their way to freedom.
★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd
Winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or at 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Dheepan may not be as strong a cinema as past few recipients of the same honour but it nonetheless succeeds as an engrossing, absorbing & reflective drama that illustrates the plight of immigrants with unflinching honesty and is boosted substantially by outstanding performances from its leading cast.
Dheepan tells the story of its titular character, a former Tamil Tiger soldier who pairs with a young woman & a 9-year old girl, together posing as a family, in order to leave Sri Lanka and begin a new life from scratch. Upon his arrival in France, he manages to secure the job of a resident caretaker but the daily violence in the neighbourhood turns out to be another conflict zone for him.
Co-written & directed by Jacques Audiard (best known for A Prophet), Dheepan isn't as enthralling as his finest work but it is still a powerful piece of work that's completely devoted to its characters, is expertly narrated & steadily paced. However, what impressed me most was the authenticity with which it captures the language barrier & other obstacles any immigrant faces in a different country and the desperate attempts he or she makes in order to blend in.
The technical aspects are finely executed. The set pieces provide a fitting setting for the drama to unfold at, Cinematography is effectively carried out with the best part saved for the final act which in itself was an unexpected turn, Editing could've applied a few more trims to the final print, music nicely compliments the whole narrative yet it's the performances from its relatively unknown cast that steals the show with the titular character being played by a former real-life LTTE soldier.
On an overall scale, Dheepan is a thoroughly engaging narrative about immigrant experiences that grabs the viewers attention from its opening moments, offers a harsh but unbiased look at the tough life of refugees looking for a new home in a foreign nation, and packs in an interesting set of characters who are ingeniously brought to life by its committed cast. Despite its story unfolding at the same level for the most part, the final act unexpectedly explodes on the screen and is sure to leave its viewers in a shell-shocked state. Definitely recommended.
★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2015 – film #5 : Dheepan
Reason for pick: Director Jacques Audiard – The Prophet, Rust and Bone
Director Jacques Audiard finally captures the big prize with this year’s outing about a group of Tamil refugees fleeing to France. My only issue is that I don’t think this is the film he should have been rewarded for.
Make no mistake, Dheepan is expertly made, and has all of the gritty visual characteristics of his previous works that I’ve seen; A Prophet and Rust and Bone, and certainly has the same well-paced timing and dramatic arc. It absolutely has incredible performances by its Tamil non-professional acting leads; Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, and Claudine Vinasithamby. It skillfully observes the themes of family, and the violence that often tears them apart in war torn countries. What’s my issue then? It seems manufactured.
It’s getting to the point where I think if I was thrown into the middle of an Audiard film, I would recognize the style. That isn’t a bad thing; many directors I love have their trademarks, but here I can’t help but feel it makes Dheepan feel manufactured rather than created. Plot points that were completely predictable, unnecessary complications that seemed added only for dramatic tension, and a cookie-cutter ending that I felt betrayed the film, and bore little resemblance to the previous films characters catharsis. I get the sinking feeling that it was crafted to be a crowd pleaser.
Dheepan is certainly a great film, it’s just not as great as what I was expecting based on what I had seen come before.
★★★★ review by Brendan Matthew on Letterboxd
The silence in Dheepan is what truly makes this film great. The silence throughout helps us feel the peril that other characters are in in the loud, tense moments. Dheepan is really about contradiction and how our characters go through that.
I was mainly interested in Dheepan because of it winning the Palme D'Or last year at Cannes. After seeing Son of Saul, The Lobster, and Carol lose to this French-Tamil film I really wanted to see why this was chosen over the others. I still firmly believe that Son of Saul should have won last year but I'm not mad whatsoever with Dheepan winning. After seeing this I'm really excited to see the directors previous and future work.
I loved how the director made certain choices in the frame so that we could tell by ourselves the amount of time the characters have been in these apartment buildings. Also another small detail was in how much the characters progressed in their French speaking abilities. The director put so much effort in the film and it definitely shows.
The acting in Dheepan is great. It's baffling to me to have learned the 2 female leads, Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby, have never acted in a film before. They shine brightly in this film as does our main lead, Jesuthasan Antonythasan. Seeing as Antonythasan was a Sri Lankan warrior in real life it helps bring a more truthful and somber performance for his character, Dheepan. Srinivasan was amazing as the female lead and really kept me invested in her character. While I loved Vibasithamby I do think that she needed more screen time or the same amount as Antonythasan and Vibasithamby.
While there were some less than stellar blood effects in the film it doesn't detract from how awesome this film is. I highly recommend you check out Dheepan. A very effecting movie that'll leave you in wonder.
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