Tuesday, June 28, 2016

[Review] Dheepan

Last year's Palme d'Or winner Dheepan has finally gotten a U.S. release. The film is helmed by Jacques Audiard (director of 2009's excellent prison mob drama A Prophet), and it's a richly detailed portrayal of an immigrant experience that ends with a jarring clash.

When the ashes of the Sri Lankan civil war cool, a haunted soldier named Sivadhasan (Anthonythasan Jesuthasan) plans to leave the refugee camp and relocate to France for a fresh start. In order to do so, he must travel with a fake passport (from a deceased man named Dheepan) and pose with a family, which includes his "wife" Yalini (Kalieaswari) and "daughter" Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby)--two other people in search of a better life.

Dheepan is filmed with a stark lens of realism, which contains impressively naturalistic performances. It's an interesting dynamic--a group of people who don't know each other pretending to be a genuine family. But they're in it together, encountering the same struggles and adjustments of entering a foreign country with a different culture. And of course, there's the language barrier. In an amusing exchange about Sivadhasan's co-workers' jokes, he tells Yalini, "I understand the words but they don't sound funny." And Yalini answers, "Maybe you're just not funny." The duration moves at quite a slow pace, but it also exhibits many subtle moments of layered character development.

The third act sees a tonal shift and things really escalate as Sivadhasan goes head to head with the hoodlums occupying the housing project where he, Yalini, and Illayaal reside. The film practically turns into a Tax Driver-esque crime drama where bullets fly and blood is spilled (it's also similar to something that Liam Neeson might be involved in). Experimental electronic artist Nicolas Jaar provides a menacing score that surges when the chaos ensues. It's a divisive transition, but I thought it added a certain momentum and unexpected intensity to it all, as Sivadhasan (or should I say Dheepan) leaves one battle only to unfortunately face another.

( 7.5/10 )

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