Dheepan (Jacques Audiard, 2015): France

Reviewed by Phill Hunziker. Viewed at the Egyptian Theater, part of the AFI Film Festival 2015.

Receiving the Palme D’oir raises the expectations surrounding the impact of your film. Great films have been honored with this award such as Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Pianist, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Paris, Texas, etc.; that’s some great company there. After viewing this film in the beautiful Egyptian Theater, I can say that the honor was well deserved.

A Tamil Tiger soldier fighting in the Sri Lankan Civil war, Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) has a particular set of skills. Unfortunately, his side loses and he is forced to enter a refugee camp. He conjures a new life featuring a wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a 9 year old daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) in order to gain political asylum. He and his new faux family are shipped out and able to start a new life in a housing project in Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, a northeastern suburb of Paris. If settling into a completely new environment wasn’t hard enough, their neighborhood happens to be a breeding ground for crime, debauchery and gang warfare. Dheepan, the name of dead man Sivadhasan now dons, just cannot escape what he has always lived in: hell on earth. As their new family bond strengthens and is tested, Dheepan and his family must adapt to and rise above the new dangerous world they live in.

This film has it all; great cast, great script, great direction and all around great execution regarding cinematography, editing, sound and production design. The world is heavily influenced by colors, specifically blue, much like Black Mass. As Dheepan slowly starts to devolve back to his dark, badass ways, red becomes the dominant color. The camera shakes when it should and remains still when needed. It captures everything it needs to while also maintaining a small level of ambiguity. The narrative is structured so well, flowing smoothly through the highest peaks and deepest valleys. The main characters each take turns in their development, while the supporting characters receive just enough attention to be intriguing without cluttering the narrative. The first act sets the stage, the second act is a roller coaster of highs and lows, and the third act is one of the most rewarding I have seen a while. The cast is extraordinary, with Jesuthasan resembling a Sri Lankan Liam Neeson for many parts of the film. Srinivasan is equally effective, not wilting as they share the screen. When the point of focus, she blossoms into a complex, goodhearted individual who acts as the voice of reason while being impulsive herself. The two make an odd couple who, along with their new daughter, grow together into a dysfunctional-but-compassionate family. Everything just worked.

The word ‘powerful’ comes to mind when thinking of this film. It’s less of a thriller than some thrill-junkies would like it to be. Rather, it’s an extremely socially-relevant, character-driven drama with many thriller aspects to it. It is most certainly deserving of the Palme D’ior. Here’s hoping it receives similar success to the many great films that have received this honor.

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