Dheepan23 May 2016
Jacques Audiard had a fan in me with his 2009 Un Prophet. It’s a film I think about often, years after its release and only having seen it once. In fact, last year Ryan Coogler referenced it in an award speech, further endearing me to him and adding to his charm.
I never caught up with Rust and Bone in 2012, but when I saw that Audiard was back this year with Dheepan my interest was piqued. Then I learned it had central characters who were Sri Lankan, connected to the Tamil Tigers. Then it won the Palm d’Or. My interest was maximally piqued. I caught up with it this weekend and my expectations were met and exceeded.
The film has great acting, a terrifically tight and well-plotted story, direction and photography. The less-than-believable finale didn’t bother me but I can see why some viewers might be turned off by it. But to focus on the finale would be to deny the film its biggest accomplishment - building a fantastically interesting family at the center, at once immersed in violence and trying to make a new life as refugees in a new country. That the LTTE/Sri Lanka conflict has not been used to tell more stories remains a mystery, but Audiard brought it to the screen with vigor. Although we only get a few minutes in Sri Lanka with these characters, their plight is abundantly clear. As are the stakes of making it all work in France. Then you add the layers of war, filial relations, unemployment, cultural clashes and so on. A long list might make the film sound over-wrought or uncentered but it is supremely centered on one story, using all these things to bring gravitas to it.
Not only is this film fascinating as a singular story, the geo-political threads are fascinating as well. The depiction of refugee life, the present role of violence, terror and militarism, the treatment of immigrants in a Western country like France, language and cultural barriers; all of these features add so much to the film.
Audiard did enough to win a life time of admiration from me in 2009 with Un Prophet and now with Dheepan, he is seriously contending for a spot in my list of all time favorite film makers.