REVIEW: Dheepan

22 05 2017

Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” tells an extraordinary tale rather ordinarily. The titular name does not technically refer to the protagonist but rather a man whose identity he must assume in order to flee Sri Lanka. Dheepan must enter France with the passport of a deceased man, along with a fake wife and daughter, in order to get past the country’s vetting. He’s willing to work hard for the future, but that future would likely not be possible if they knew his past involvement in the wars of his native country.

Most of the film takes place in their shanty housing in the outskirts of Paris, where the makeshift family attempts to survive in their new environment. The best moments of “Dheepan” take place when Audiard’s camera catches the moments of realness behind their adopted guises. It’s here we get the whole of the immigrant experience summed up in a glance. We can see the gratitude for a new country to take them in and the yearning for a country where they could no longer stay. We notice the desire for normalcy coupled with the constant fear of disapproving neighbors watching their every move with suspicion.

Where the film starts to sputter is when Dheepan gets drawn into the local drug and gang violence of his area. We know this story of hard choices in ignored, underprivileged areas outside the purview of urban hubs. Even with a topical, political spin, the back half of “Dheepan” lands with a thud. It’s not enough to blow all the goodwill from Audiard’s perceptive look at the perils of entry into France’s hostile environment. But it comes perilously close. B-

F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 10, 2015)

10 09 2015

A ProphetThe Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gets underway today, and plenty of films vying for Oscar glory will be seen for the first time.  Other holdovers from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Venice will also get a moment in the sun, a reintroduction for North American audiences.

One film of the latter variety is Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan,” the controversial Palme D’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Many people chalked up the film’s unexpected victory to its director simply being due for the prize after coming up short numerous times.  One such missed opportunity was back in 2009 when Audiard debuted “A Prophet.”

I first watched the film after it received a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars back in 2010 … and found myself quite underwhelmed.  For whatever reason, I just could not connect with it.  But once “Dheepan” took the big prize in Cannes, I felt obliged to give it another go.  The second time around, I was actually quite taken by the film.  I still think “Fish Tank” deserved the Palme D’Or, but “A Prophet” is certainly worth of my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Audiard’s film is a patiently paced prison drama that goes for slow, longitudinal change rather than explosive incidents.  Think “The Shawshank Redemption,” but as an art film instead of something so commercial.  “A Prophet” follows Tahar Rahim’s Malik, a most curious double agent, as he games both sides of a Corsican/Muslim prison gang tussle.  He wants to make a big move one day in the future – even though that forces him to assume a subservient position for the ruthless, spineless Corsican ringleader (Niels Arestrup).

Audiard was smart to cast Rahim, a novice actor when he filmed “A Prophet.”  A well-versed thespian might have tried to slip hints towards a greater intellect humming beneath the surface of Malik.  Rahim, however, plays him as a rather ordinary man of no particular intelligence, just sort of making it up as he goes.  He’s playing the long game, not necessarily because he focuses on the ends but mostly because he cannot sufficiently navigate the present.

Malik’s rise to power, when watched in the right state of mind, makes for truly riveting cinema.  While it might not always be pulse-pounding action, the novel-like breadth of its narrative provides a rich experience for serious-minded movie lovers.

REVIEW: Rust and Bone

20 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

Getting down to the core of our humanity (or the bone, if you will) is a difficult and unsavory task, but you may hardly notice just how rough it can be until Jacques Audiard has released you from his grasp when the credits of “Rust and Bone” roll.  His cinematic paean to the resilience of the human spirit takes two characters down to their most starkly naked vulnerability, putting them through an emotional and physical gauntlet that tries them as well as the audience.  The end of the tunnel may not be brightly lit or accompanied by tremendous fanfare, but it reinvigorates and revitalizes in a way that only a truly great movie can.

With two phenomenal actors, Matthias Schoenaerts, on the way up after last year’s Oscar-nominated “Bullhead,” and Marion Cotillard, who continues to prove movie after movie that “La Vie En Rose” was no fluke, “Rust and Bone” aims for painful areas of the psyche.  Failure, loss, disappointment, desperation, and adversity are all sores opened by the movie, and it continues to stick a finger in them when it would be far less painful to just think about them being there.  Yet it is precisely this wrenching of the soul that gives the film power and emphasis.  In a cinematic climate where misfortune has evolved from beyond a niche and is moving towards an entire genre in and of itself, it takes a lot for a movie to distinguish itself from the pack.

And believe me, from now on when I think of films about the mettle it takes to overcome immense tribulations, “Rust and Bone” will shoot to the front of my mind.  And that’s not just because Marion Cotillard is proudly sporting two limbs instead of four for the majority of the film.  Audiard, who also co-wrote the film, finds a natural way to intertwine two disparate tales of suffering into a satisfying and believable romance without hokey stunts or sensationalism.

Her Stephanie is a former whale trainer at the French equivalent of SeaWorld turned Cannes penthouse-dweller after a tragic accident in the water.  His Alain is a well-meaning but deadbeat dad as well as street fighter for cash on the side just to get by.  They meet at the beginning of the film when Alain kicks Stephanie out of the bar after she starts a fight; while it’s a strange connection, apparently it was enough for her to call him when she gets lonely in her insurance claim-purchased apartment.

Sure, the precipitating event may be a little bit of a stretch, but what ensues as they build an incredible rapport to shelter each other from pain makes up for the lack of believability of their inception.  Cotillard and Schoenaerts don’t sport a typical romantic chemistry, but they feel all the more real and human because of it.  Both meet the emotional demands of the script, exposing themselves both spiritually and physically to each other and to the audience.  (Translation from serious movie critic pRose: they are naked a lot, sometimes maybe even a little gratuitously.)  Together with their bold helmer Audiard, they boldly go where few will go and bring us out in a hardly glorious but nevertheless moving affirmation of the ability of humans to be courageous and to change.  B+ /