When Dheepan, writer/director Jacques Audiard seventh feature film, won the coveted Palme d’or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, pundits were left puzzled. Beating festival favorites Carol, Mountains May Depart, The Assassin and Sicario with a film deemed weaker than Audiard’s previous cinematic gems such as The Prophet and Rust and Bone was surprising indeed. Following our screening of the film, we must admit that we were baffled by the acclaim as well. Though expertly directed, well paced, and featuring naturalistic performances by its leading actors, the spiritual and contemplative Dheepan is not a cut above the rest.
The film follows the resilient Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan, making her feature film debut) who wildly searches the war-torn makeshift tents that clutter the landscape of Sri Lanka for an orphaned young girl who can pass for nine years ago. Once paired with the despondent Illayaal (newcomer Claudine Vinasithamby), Yalini is introduced to the mysterious Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) who will travel with the women to France using the forged identities of a deceased family.
Forced into new identities and a sham familial unit, Yalini, Illayaal, and Dheepan trade in one hostile environment for another, as they quickly learn that, in France, they are now caretakers at a violent gang-infested housing community.
The explosive de Palma-esque ending as well as the astounding performances will stay with its viewers, but little else of Dheepan will.