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 feedingbrett on Letterboxd
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Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone was a problematic film that attempted to juggle two separate character arcs that rarely felt seamless or as impactful as it could have been. However, performances were strong, notably from a committed Marion Cotillard who played a whale trainer who recently lost her lower limbs. Though Audiard managed to propel and succeed in 2015’s Cannes Film Festival, there was a hint of hesitation from me, thinking that familiar footsteps would be taken with it’s storytelling and would fail to make a positive impression on me.
To my surprise, his new film, despite it’s adherence to some storytelling structures and execution to his last film, still managed to leave a great impression on me. Dheepan, the film’s title and the name of it’s protagonist (played by Antonythasan Jesuthasan), revolves around the struggling transition of it’s titular character and his newly falsified family from Sri Lanka to France. His sense of defeat and loss in his home country’s war has pushed him to escape and rebuild a hopeful and peaceful life, while his surrogate wife and child exist to ensure such a familiar family portrait could be maintained. Yet his ‘wife’ Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) has other intentions, hoping to elope to England where her cousin is living.
For the bulk of the film’s first half covers their difficult transition, the common conditions of a refugee. Working late hours, living in a competent but cramped apartment, starting fresh in an isolating school, and the dark reality of the country’s slums. We see the dramatic reaches of this initial portion to be more miniature, gentle, and intimately human. It tackles the commonality of humanity’s daily grind, revealing the discomforting disconnect and tiresome demand in order to keep things afloat - elements that extend not just to their new responsibilities as caretakers of an apartment complex in the slums, but also in their own home as a family unit.
Audiard tackles upon such small fragments effortlessly and gracefully, creating significant impact without necessarily propelling it’s plot or condensing it’s atmosphere for a direct and sharp effect onto his viewers. Instead, he lets things quietly boil, compact scenes with honest but engaging dialogue and interactions, and take on a curious perspective that showcases his characters attempting to establish rapport and understanding of not just of the people that surround them, but also the environment that they inhabit and the culture that define it, contrasting it to their own back home.
As the film’s plot begins to progress along, the momentum and drama start to evolve, of which now aspects begin to trigger our protagonist as elements of their current circumstance start to evoke a far too strong of a familiarity that starts to impart a confronting threat to himself and his family. Audiard thankfully does not completely drop the ball with this transition, but aspects do feel far less genuine and emotionally inviting as compared to what was previously offered. Had the film retained the aesthetic of it’s first half and still found a way to equally challenge and develop it’s characters, then I would have considered this film to be overall perfect.
Yet, that being said, Dheepan is still a wonderful film to behold, with it’s story unfolding in a manner that is truly cinematically mesmerising, donning a cloak of confidence in the way scenes are executed and amplified through it’s camerawork. Audiard is really in control here, even if certain decisions were not to my personal taste. Dheepan is a very human film, captures the little things that are often glossed over in cinema for the sake of simplicity and aggressive momentum. Therefore for this, I am thankful.
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