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.
★★★★½ review by Jason Ooi on Letterboxd
Dheepan begins briskly without a sentimental air, as the eponymous character is given a family of strangers – a fake-wife and a fake-daughter, none of which have ever met before, and dropped in France, an equally strange land. Their lives are completely reset as they depart the war-filled Sri Lankan jungle that they once called home. But the past lingers and they can never completely escape it.
The father, Dheepan, is a freedom fighter: a soldier. He has fought his war, accepting his loss with dignity. Resigned, perhaps it is some ironic sense of redemption that he be reduced to caretaker for the dilapidated French apartment complex Le Pre, the pasture, still taking commands, but for a different cause. Still, he remains honorable in his defeat and attempts to fit in, faking smiles and friendships and disavowing conflicts.
But all is not tranquil in complex, which name translates directly to “the pasture”. Rather than the connotative peace and freedom, Dheepan finds instead another war-zone, in the form of gangsters and drug dealers, who claim themselves to be businessmen but do not afford the same sense of nobility that soldiers do. This dynamic is extremely fascinating to watch and, as it reaches its tipping point, provides quite the tense catharsis.
The war exists indefinitely in the background and reminds him of his gruesome past, but still, he tries to escape its grasp and fit in. He almost succeeds at one point, celebrating his heritage with others like him, finding happiness, if only for a moment, but is quickly recognized and sent to report to his colonel, also a refugee in France, who attempts to conscript him back into the Tamil war machine.
The mother is meticulously examined as well; she is a barely a woman, yet forced to raise a daughter that is not her own. She finds work cooking and cleaning for the local drug lord’s invalid father, and discovers her own sense of freedom. The daughter is similarly brave, going to Kindergarten and adapting quickly, bridging the gap between the two bickering parents, even if she does disappear for a bit during the second half of the film.
The use of language in this film is phenomenal. It provides both a sense of progression, while acting as a reminder of the family’s Tamil origins. As the film progresses, French slowly begins to seep in and overtake their original tongue, but they are never able to completely absolve themselves of their differences with everybody else. They obviously do not belong – their words and their skin tones differ from the others – and this makes it all the harder for them.
At the core of this film’s character studies are astounding performances from completely unknown faces in a way that defies regular Hollywood casting. Director Jacques Audiard does not utilize any fancy camera movements or maneuvers, but rather, simple, un-distracting shots, that employ every facial expression and movement within the film. The mother’s eyes feel glaring and the father’s feels dead. Raw human emotion surrounds the film, contributing to the emotional resonance that emanates from the film, and creating three characters that very justifiably elicit sympathy in their own ways.
Dheepan is an effective social commentary that remains dramatic without feeling emotionally manipulative. It is entirely deserving of its Palme d’Or – a different film altogether, driven by strong performances, and a highbrow concept that immediately raises a prevalence of answer-less questions.
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