Jacques Audiard has created visceral, yet deep films that stay with you. He first came to worldwide attention with the intense A Prophet – an effective and heart-wrenching film about the underworld of prison and it’s corruption on humanity. What was a stunning drama led to the melodramatic romance, Rust and Bone. While I didn’t find myself interested in a romance between a bare-knuckle boxer and a killer whale trainer, audiences ate it up and a large saving grace was the performances from Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard. Now Audiard is back with his Palme D’or winning Dheepan – what might be his best film to date.
Dheepan sets its sights on the trio of Sivadhasan, a Sri Lankan soldier on the losing side of the civil war; Yalini and Illayaal, the fake wife and daughter he needs in order to gain access to France for a new life. After getting comfortable with a job as a caretaker at a sketchy apartment complex, the makeshift family begins to become acquainted with their new lives and community, until circumstances beyond their control reach out for each of them. And without going into insane detail, Audiard is able to balance a mature outlook on modern life and the effects of immigration altogether in a cohesive fashion, even in the downright aggressive ending.
Each character is given their due from their perspective in a life that isn’t well known to them. Of course, Sivadhasan has the dheepest (sorry) role in the film, but the actresses in the movie have no shortage of material to work with. Audiard is no stranger to getting the best out of his cast. As Sivadhasan/Dheepan, Antonythasan Jesuthasan crafts an incredibly detailed and tortured human being. And after actually being a former soldier of the Sri Lankan army, I’m sure Jesuthasan has some experience to put towards his role, but that doesn’t lessen the work and beauty he puts into the war-torn individual.
The beauty of Dheepan lies in the darkness of its visuals. Despite the occasional close-up of a scarred elephant in what may be one of the most unsubtle metaphors of the year, the screen emits a love for a dull colour palette. Various greys and reds are used to dim the environment and present it with a sense of the mundanities of life. Of course, this has always been the way that Audiard has shot his films, but it still works in the case of re-adjustment to a new life.
The direction, along with the surprisingly subtle score from electronic musician, Nicolas Jaar, is able to make a lot of the emotion come through, even when the acting can feel a little distant. By focusing on mostly non-actors, Audiard has the chance to take us out of the movie by making every line sound incredibly forced, but thankfully in this case, it brings authenticity. The ultra-violent ending almost tips the movie over into ridiculousness by taking us out of the low-key drama beforehand, but with deft editing, Dheepan (and audiences) can breathe a sigh of relief.
Dheepan can occasionally become tiresome due to the self-seriousness of Audiard’s filmmaking. He rarely goes out of his way to create humour in the story or have anything that really gives some breathing room for the audience, but it also allows a bold submersion into the lives of these people. Depending on whether or not you can stomach the self-seriousness will allow you to either enjoy the film or not. While that doesn’t bother me, it will definitely do so for others.
Audiard has another home-run on his hands with this one. It’s no surprise why the Coen brothers would award Dheepan with the coveted Palme D’Or. With its deep layering of family struggles and criminal enterprises with a shockingly violent ending that is almost ripped out of Taxi Driver, Dheepan has the ability to give a deep feeling of sorrow, but also allow for a triumphant feeling by the time you leave the theatre.