Studio: Criterion

Jun 09, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The opening sequence of Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan sizzles unsettlingly, as we watch a Tamil soldier burn bodies and, out of the ashes, create a new life for himself and the strangers posing as his wife and child. The promise of a better life, as so often goes the narrative, waits for them in Paris, as they escape from the conflict torn Sri Lanka.

Dheepan, which took home the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, is a curious film, whose elevator pitch, as it were, is in the kind of art house social realist filmmaking that’s reminiscent of, like, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, or of even certain strains of Claire Denis. Broadly mired in the struggles of the everyday lives of the marginalized, bleak and seemingly without hope, defined by moral ambiguity and little else. But Dheepan feels different because the platitudes that sometimes mark Cannes films like that, what feels like obligation rather than investment, doesn’t necessarily color Audiard’s film.

Yes, the situation that these characters are in – the makeshift family of “father” Dheepan, “mother” Yalini, and “daughter” Illayaal – is terrible, and unfortunate, and used by Audiard as a reflection of the sinking remnants and perversions of a global capitalist economy that leaves destruction in its path. But Audiard, director of A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, has an uncanny way of getting into the heads of his characters, rendering them to be fully human, and not merely allegorical pawns in a war of whose film can best serve bourgeois audiences a message about The World We Live In.

As Dheepan’s family begins to unravel and come apart in the wake of paranoia about the immigration policies in France, and he himself begins to become involved with the drug lords in the suburban area in which they live, and as the daughter struggles to contextualize the French language in her life and the environment at large, Audiard’s camera gets closer to his characters. Eschewing convention, where this story would be one “with purpose”, the intimacy he engenders, and the genre bending he utilizes throughout the film (at its core, it feels like a family drama) elevate this film to an experience that’s engrossing and heart wrenching.

Yalini screams at Dheepan at one point, “I’m not your wife! And you’re not my husband.” It’s like the illusion of unlimited potential for immigrants, for others, has been stopped in its tracked, halted beyond reason. That sounds familiar.  



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