In 2009, French director Jacques Audiard won the Grand Prix (equivalent to second location) at the Cannes Film Festival for A Prophet, a gripping thriller about a 19-year-old Algerian inmate who gradually rises to energy in a prison exactly where Muslims and Corsicans are engaged in mob warfare. Chief amongst the film’s numerous virtues is Audiard’s sly narrative strategy: Through the vessel of a tough, violent genre image, he could smuggle a film that’s actually about the difficulty persons of color and cultural disadvantage have in a program that is stacked against them. Come for the edge-of-your-seat gangster movie, keep for an incisive metaphor for the immigrant expertise.
Final year, Audiard returned to Cannes with Dheepan and walked away as the surprise winner of leading prize, the Palme D’Or, more than such vaunted contenders as Carol, Son of Saul, and The Assassin. The film’s champions rightly lauded it as a timely drama about the hardships of war refugees in France — and this was in Might, prior to the full influence of the swell of asylum applications from Syrian refugees in Europe and beyond, and all its attendant controversies. But Dheepan, in essence, functions like A Prophet in reverse: It’s a sober drama about the immigrant encounter that smuggles in a bloody drug thriller in the third act. This time, although, it feels like Audiard is sabotaging his own film.
The connective tissue amongst the beginning and the finish of Dheepan is the violence that drives three Sri Lankans from the present dangers of civil conflict on the island to the urban battlefield of the Paris projects. Loosely inspired by his personal experiences as a former child soldier with the Sri Lankan militant group, the Tamil Tigers, the film stars Antonythasan Jesuthasan as Sivadhasan, a rebel forced to flee the country swiftly in order to be spared from government retribution. At a refugee camp, he procures a passport for a dead man named Dheepan and is set up with a fake household that involves a wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a nine-year-old daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby).
The 3 arrive in Paris as strangers to the country and strangers to every single other, unfamiliar with the language and culture, and not eligible to be element of the country’s labor force or social protections. Dheepan (who loses his real name indefinitely) is very first shown hawking glow-in-the-dark trinkets to vacationers for two Euros a pop, but ultimately lands a a lot more steady job as caretaker at a condemned housing project. He tries to tend quietly to his responsibilities, but in buildings lorded more than by volatile drug dealers, it’s only a matter of time just before he and his makeshift loved ones begin to really feel a familiar threat.
Ahead of Dheepan’s transformation from downtrodden refugee to angel of vengeance — or maybe his return to old habits, provided his warrior previous — Audiard and his extraordinary cast are gratifyingly distinct in detailing the daily struggle of refugees living in the shadows. All work is off the books, as is the derelict housing, which certainly violates the codes no one cares to expose. Illayaal, a bright and curious girl with an unimaginably painful past, is shuffled into a “specific wants” class to find out the language and makes no close friends on the playground. For her element, Yalini tends to make income tending to an elderly man in a neighboring apartment, but inadvertently puts herself and her “household” in a precarious spot.
The connection amongst Dheepan and Yalini requires on an uncommon, intriguing tenor, because they do not know every other, but they’ve been thrown into a circumstance of uncommon intimacy and mutual dependency. There are flashes of true romantic feeling that recall Audiard’s final film, the underrated Rust and Bone, but just as numerous situations of distrust and miscommunication, which are a all-natural byproduct of two strangers thrown into a perilous predicament together. They don’t make decisions like a correct marital unit, and they’re consistently at risk of getting cleaved by opposing agendas.
Audiard and his co-screenwriters, Noé Debré and Thomas Bidegain, plant the seeds for their hero’s chilling transformation back into the soldier of his past, now forced to contend with a diverse sort of conflict zone. But Dheepan nonetheless feels hijacked by an additional kind of film toward the finish, as if a Dardennes brothers movie like La Promesse had abruptly turned into an actioner like District B13 or The Raid. What began as a piercing drama about refugees, rooted firmly in the ethnic crises that have plagued contemporary Paris, shifts into a cathartic melee that nearly ideas into outright fantasy. One particular part of the film cannot be reconciled with the other.