Philadelphia Film Festival – ‘Dheepan’ is meaningful and unsentimenal

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Dheepan_posterDheepan
Directed by Jacques Audiard
France, 2015
Philadelphia Film Festival

Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) is a Tamil fighter. He flees war-torn Sri Lanka with Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), posing as his wife and daughter. The makeshift family arrives in France and Dheepan finds work as a caretaker for an apartment building that is also a drug front.

Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to Rust and Bone took home the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Dheepan thrives on silence. A nearly wordless opening showing the eponymous character’s tragic departure, the desperate meeting of Dheepan, Yalini, and Illayaal, and the voyage west is particularly effective. Audiard jumps smoothly through time and forces the audience to catch up with only the barest context, producing a beautifully mysterious prologue.

The director gets phenomenal performances from the three leads, who are all essentially non-actors (Antonythasan has one other credit to his name). The film is especially poignant in moments between surrogate daughter and mother, where the former teaches the latter lessons that aren’t so often both meaningful and unsentimental in movies.

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This is a Jacques Audiard film, so there must be some thriller element, and the last third – perhaps more precisely, the last 10 minutes – lives up to that expectation. Dheepan makes a nearly incredulous leap from affecting family drama and immigrant experience to stylish action film. The remarkable thing is that the movie weathers that transition. Indeed, the ending feels close to that of Taxi Driver in its potential dreamlike reads. What makes Dheepan all the more enigmatic is the possibility of two consecutive dreams at the end of the film, justifiable in the abrupt change of character, narrative, style, and in one of those instances, the transitional camera movement itself.

Dheepan, like Audiard’s Read My Lips, is also about language, and how communication and the human experience of togetherness can transcend common words. Scenes between Yalini and Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), a French-speaking gangster for whom she works, are fantastically and even playfully executed. These scenes take on special significance as their relationship veers towards danger.

 

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