Daily | Cannes 2015 | Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN



“Jacques Audiard has made his name, in films such as A Prophet, Rust and Bone and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, for a kind of ecstatic violence of the soul,” begins the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver. “Dheepan, his new film about a former Tamil Tiger fighter looking for a new life in France, certainly has some of the director’s trademark ferocity, especially in its final minutes, but it displays what I can only describe as dialed-down Audiard. Indeed, much of the time it even ambles, peacefully, with nothing much happening.”

“Expressive strains of spirituality in the face of austere reality float through Dheepan,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “One character prays to the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, success and good fortune, Ganesh, while the troubled sleep of another is interrupted by visions of the jungle, where the soulful eyes of an actual elephant appear to offer him what could be pity, judgment or comfort. Jacques Audiard’s seventh feature brings something new to the Paris banlieue drama, portraying the experience of an improvised family from Sri Lanka who escape civil war to find themselves again enmeshed in violent conflict.”

Variety‘s Scott Foundas:

There’s certainly no disputing that one of the breakout stars of Cannes this year is Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a former child soldier with the Sri Lankan militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who fled the country in the late 1980s and eventually made his way to France, where he became an acclaimed playwright, essayist and novelist. Dheepan marks his first leading role in a film (after a supporting part in the 2011 Indian film Sengadal), but his commanding screen presence suggests it will not be his last. Drawn partly from his own experiences, Antonythasan’s character here, Sivadhasan, is a rebel fighter who finds himself on the losing side in the waning days of Sri Lanka’s bloody and long civil war and resolves to make a new start of things in France. But in order to claim asylum, he’ll need a convincing cover story (as one of the oppressed, rather than an oppressor) and a family in tow (having lost his own wife and child to the carnage). In a refugee camp, he’s given the passport of a dead man, Dheepan, and paired with a wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and nine-year-old daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), and placed on a boat bound for Paris.

Foundas finds that “this almost entirely Tamil-language immigrant drama unfolds in solidly involving, carefully observed fashion for much of its running time, until it takes a sharp and heavy-handed turn into genre territory from which it never quite recovers.”

Dheepan is, for the large majority of its runtime, a satisfyingly even-handed and non-judgmental exploration of the immigrant experience,” writes David Jenkins of Little White Lies. “It’s not an overtly political film, though Audiard makes it easy to extrapolate the actions of his characters and easily place them into the current news agenda. For the most part, it sets its stall as being remarkably pro-immigration, offering reason after reason why healthy western economies should do their utmost to offer aid people from more politically volatile global territories.” For all that, “things do go majorly down hill in its botched final act.”

But the Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton argues that “the shift hardly comes from nowhere. Audiard brings a sense of inevitable momentum as the film starts to wrap up, and Dheepan, standing up for the family he’s accidentally found (who may not want the help) after he couldn’t save his real one, makes sense.”

“Terrific central performances and fine camerawork from Éponine Momenceau add necessary grit to the coming shoot-’em-up, yet Dheepan lacks the gravitas of Audiard’s best-loved works,” finds Tara Brady in the Irish Times. But for Screen‘s Allan Hunter, Dheepan offers “the pleasures of captivating storytelling with an irresistible human pulse.”

Updates, 5/23: “My jaw dropped at the violence.” Grantland‘s Wesley Morris on that final twist: “It feels like a severe overcorrection for the argument in A Prophet that dominance of the French crime world represented a major achievement for the country’s Arabs. As folklore, that movie was exhilarating; as politics, appalling. That applies here, too. Audiard’s sense of showmanship and his comfort with provocation make him fun to watch. He’s testing your morality—not frivolously, either. Still, that button-pushing can also make him exasperatingly arrogant. He doesn’t need to be right as long as he’s cool.”

At the Dissolve, Mike D’Angelo suggests that it’s “as if he looked around, realized he was making a movie starring two Sri Lankan actors (both of whom are excellent), and decided he’d better toss in some commercially viable bang-bang. I’m not convinced it’ll help.”

More from Fabien Lemercier, who also interviews Audiard for Cineuropa, and from Barbara Scharres at

Updates, 5/25: First up, Dheepan‘s won the Palme d’Or.

For the AV Club‘s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, it’s “one of those bad Taxi Driver interpretations that takes Travis Bickle at face value.” And “an ending is more than a final stop; ideally, it’s the place where a movie is taking its viewer. Here, that place is a reactionary fantasy of improvised weapons and bad drug dealers getting what’s coming to them, as seen through Éponine Momenceau’s inexpressive and impersonal handheld camera.”

“Clear-eyed, tightly wound, and cinematically and psychologically immersive, it’s a furious ride of a movie that actually has something to say,” finds Zhuo-Ning Su at the Film Stage.

“The finale, it must be said, throws up some plausibility issues,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “Audiard’s direction of the blood-soaked confrontations that occur is logistically bold, and a welcome flexing of otherwise underexercised genre muscle, but comes almost bewilderingly out of left-field. Then a geographical leap happens that simply begs too many questions—monetary, procedural, personal—and wraps up this story on an overly convenient and too-condensed note, as if a transitional reel were missing. It’s a small-to-medium-sized dent in the film’s overall accomplishment, which is mostly in having as sinewy, palpable and fervent an impact as we always hope Audiard’s pictures will.”

Update, 5/27: “It’s a heady brew, awkwardly told, but smartly provocative.” Four out of five stars from Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun.

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