Pin It

Review: Dheepan 

A trio escapes Sri Lankan civil war for French housing projects

click to enlarge film_rec-1.jpg

Photo Courtesy IFC

Held in the South of France every spring, the Cannes Film Festival holds what is widely seen as the most prestigious film competition in the world. Its coveted top prize is the Palme d'Or. But the list of 21st-century Palme d'Or winners includes few films that cinephiles or critics would now choose as the best of recent years. Films that succeed at Cannes often possess original visions and authenticity that make even obvious flaws easy to overlook. Viewers may not find a lot of personal favorites on that list, but they won't see dull or uninspired films.

  French filmmaker Jacques Audiard's 2015 Palme d'Or winner Dheepan fits the description above like a worn glove. The fictional story of three refugees from the Sri Lankan civil war trying to survive the similarly harsh world of a French housing project, Dheepan was made primarily to give voice to characters of a type seldom found in movies.

  Referred to admiringly as "the French Scorsese," Audiard (A Prophet) is known for genre films — often about struggling outsiders — that skirt the line between art and entertainment. With Dheepan he blends elements of Westerns, crime thrillers, love stories and even documentaries in a cinematic stew that doesn't come together as planned. But there's freshness to Audiard's story and fearlessness in its execution that lend the film credibility even as it indulges in unnecessary flights of fancy.

  Dheepan begins in a Sri Lankan refugee camp at the end of the civil war, which places events depicted in the film around 2009. A soldier from the Tamil Tigers (which opposed the Sri Lankan government), a woman and a 9-year-old girl meet and pose as a family to increase their chances of being granted political asylum in France. Now known as Dheepan, the former soldier finds work as the on-site caretaker of a gritty suburban housing project on the outskirts of Paris. Another civil war — this one between two rival gangs of small-time criminals — erupts around the artificial family before it can adjust to its new home.

  Audiard began work on Dheepan long before the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, which has focused attention in the West on complex issues raised by the arrival of large numbers of asylum-seekers. The parallels make the film seem especially timely.

  Audiard's casting choices generate the film's strongest connections to real-world events. Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, who plays Dheepan, is a political activist and celebrated author (under the pseudonym Shobasakthi) who served as a boy-soldier in the Tamil Tigers. His brooding, world-weary presence would never be mistaken for the work of an uninvolved professional actor. Indian theater artist Kalieaswari Srinivasan is equally convincing in her first film role as Dheepan's conflicted "wife," Yalini.

  Dheepan leaves behind all notions of realism in a violent and implausible final act that owes a debt to Scorsese's Taxi Driver, among other American crime movies. Fantasy seems an unlikely way to tie up the film's stylistic loose ends. Ironically, bringing the refugee crisis into the populist world of genre movies has the odd effect of humanizing those most affected by that crisis. That's a pretty significant achievement for a film — Palme d'Or winner or not.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Pin It
Submit an event Jump to date

Movies This Week

More Filmtimes


Latest in Film: Previews and Reviews

More by Ken Korman

© 2018 Gambit
Powered by Foundation