Sunday, May 8, 2016

Review: Dheepan

Image courtesy of Sundance Selects.
Much like one of this week's other art-house films - "A Bigger Splash" - Jacques Audiard's latest, "Dheepan," which won the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, starts out as a simple story before genre trappings seep in during the finale, although Audiard's film does so more convincingly.

The picture follows the story of the titular character - played with some serious gravitas by Jesuthasan Antonythasan - who sheds his identity and pairs up with a young woman named Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and an even younger one known as Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) to form a fictional family in order to gain entry from France after fleeing war in Sri Lanka.

Although little detail is given, we know that Dheepan fought in that war, was among the few surviving members of his squad and, in all likelihood, committed some horrible acts that he'd like to forget. He doesn't actually know Yalini or Illayaal, both of whom have lost most of their families in their home country, and the three attempt to get to know one another so that they can convincingly portray a family when applying for citizenship.

Dheepan lands a job as the caretaker at a particularly rundown housing project that is overrun by gangs and drug dealers and Yalini is hired to take care of an elderly disabled man whose son happens to be the drug kingpin at the project. This man enjoys Yalini's cooking and, for a time, Dheepan and his family are treated with favor by the tenants at the project.

But a few unfortunate run-ins transpire, including Dheephan's discovery that one of his former commanders in Sri Lanka has moved into the same project and, much worse, Dheepan gets into a scuffle with a drug dealer after having been in an argument with Yalini. At the same time, Dheepan and his fake wife begin to develop an actual relationship that is tender and convincing, while Yalini begins to behave like an actual mother to the lonely Illayaal.

As I'd mentioned before, some plot developments occur late in the picture involving a war between rival drug dealers and Dheepan and his family find themselves caught in the middle. The picture goes from being an occasionally tense - but often moving - immigrant tale to a bloody action movie during the finale and although a sequence during which Dheepan takes action is a bit far-fetched, it's also gripping and very well made.

For those unfamiliar with Audiard's work, his pictures typically tell gritty stories about persons on the outskirts of society who find themselves surrounded by - and occasionally drawn into - violence. My favorite Audiard picture is his powerful gangster drama "A Prophet," although "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" and "Rust and Bone" are also noteworthy. "Dheepan" is a gripping immigration story, but also a powerful and convincing tale of makeshift families. And the performances by its lead trio - none of whom have much previous acting experience - are very impressive. I'd highly recommend it.

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