Connect with us
Welcome to a new column on movies released by the Criterion Collection. Our first column will look at Jacques Audiard's 2015 film 'Dheepan,' which was released on Blu-ray in May 2017.

Movie Reviews

Critical Criterion: Jacques Audiard’s ‘Dheepan’ Is a Brutal Refugee Story

Dheepan is a gripping look at the life of a refugee, but its action-movie ending feels rushed. The Criterion Blu-ray release provides a well-rounded look at the making and the historical background.

Welcome to a new column on movies released by the Criterion Collection. Our first column will look at Jacques Audiard’s 2015 film ‘Dheepan,’ which was released on Blu-ray in May 2017.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly movies podcast, Adventures in Movies!

French filmmaker Jacques Audiard established himself on the international scene with 2005’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, which he followed up with the brutal prison drama A Prophet in 2009. After working with Marion Cotillard in 2012’s Rust and Bone, Audiard went in a completely different direction with 2015’s Dheepan, which was on the 2015 Plame D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Incredible performances from its two leads, with a non-professional in the title role, are one of the film’s highlights.

Dheepan is a unique take on the immigrant and refugee story. Former Tamil Tiger soldier Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) escapes the Sri Lankan Civil War with a “fake” family. He is joined by Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), a young woman desperate to leave, and Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), a nine-year-old girl whose real mother is dead. They arrive in Paris and end up living in a housing project called Le Pré, the French word for “Meadow.” But it turns out to be anything but a peaceful meadow, as the place is really run by drug dealers.

The first three quarters of the film is an exploration of how difficult it is for an immigrant to fit into their new surroundings. There are people willing to help, like the schoolteacher (Joséphine de Meaux) and Youssouf (Marc Zinga), but the hooligans look upon Dheepan and his “family” as outsiders begging to be ridiculed. Making things worse is Dheepan’s struggle to turn the three Sri Lankans into a family unit, when Yalini has no interest in it. There’s a brief love story here, as Dheepan and Yalini appear to be getting along just fine, but then it all shatters when violence finally arrives.

For the most part, it feels like not much is going on – the three immigrants go about their daily lives and attempt to fit in. Audiard begins shifting gears when Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), a convicted leader of one gang whose father is being cared for by Yalini, enters the picture. The director slowly begins ramping up the tension, but not so quickly yet that it suddenly feels like you’re thrown into a different movie. Audiard and co-writers Noé Debré and Thomas Bidegain begin really pushing the gas with 20 minutes left in the film, when Dheepan’s soldier habits kick in high gear to defend his makeshift family.

Unfortunately, that ending feels so rushed, as if Audiard wanted to get the movie under two hours, but couldn’t sacrifice his slow-burn build-up to it. Instead of treating the climax with the same care and slow pace that dominated the first chunk of the film, Audiard slams down on the gas without giving us time to digest the sudden tonal shift.

The best part of the film is its cast. Antonythasan Jesuthasan, an author and poet who had only appeared in a little-seen Indian film before this, is devastating and powerful as Dheepan. Jesuthasan doesn’t have to pretend to be Dheepan, since he was that character in real life. A former Tamil soldier himself, he also fled Sri Lanka.

In an interview on the Criterion disc, he says he first lived in hiding in Thailand for three years before he made it to France, where he lives today. Kalieaswari Srinivasa, a stage actress who hadn’t made a movie before, is also impressive as Yalini, wearing the character’s desperation on her face. So much of what these characters do is done without dialogue, making their performances all the more impressive. Their emotions are laid bare, and Audiard’s direction let’s their performances breathe.


The Blu-Ray

As a recent film, Dheepan looks wonderful in the video department. It is a dark film, with a quiet soundtrack. The music by Nicolas Jaar is sparse, only used to accentuate dramatic moments in the film. Most of the film’s dialogue is in Tamil, further isolating Dheepan and his “family” from French society. Or course, there is English subtitles, which can be turned off if you’d like to see cinematographer Eponine Momenceau’s images without words at the bottom of the screen.

Criterion’s releases of new films are typically not filled to the brim with bonus material, and that’s the case here. Audiard and Jesuthasan sat down for new interviews, each providing context for how they approached the film. Since Criterion didn’t include any documentaries about the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted over 25 years and didn’t end until 2009, Jesuthasan’s also serves as historical background.

Other extras are ported over from previous French home video releases of Dheepan. Audiard and co-writer Noe Debre provide French-language commentaries for the film and a nine-minute collection of deleted sequences.

While Dheepan is a gripping film for the most part, there’s a reason why some booed when it was announced as the winner of Cannes’ top award in 2015. At the last possible moment, Audiard tries to turn this darkly serious political and social film into an action movie, complete with slow motion and smoke-filled images of a gun-toting hero firing away. Dheepan should still be seen at least once, to get a better understanding of the difficult experience facing refugees around the world, but it’s hard to see why anyone would want to revisit it.

Critical Criterion: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan'
Is it good?
Dheepan is a gripping look at the life of a refugee, but its action-movie ending feels rushed. The Criterion Blu-ray release provides a well-rounded look at the making and the historical background.
Excellent performances from Jesuthasan and Srinivasan.
Audiard succeeds in highlighting the issues facing a refugee in a foriegn landscape.
The ending feels rushed and tacked on.
As powerful as the first two thirds of the movie is, Dheepan isn't exactly a movie you want to watch over and over again.
6
Average
Comments

In Case You Missed It

The hype train has come into the station today as Tom Taylor and Daniel Di Nicuolo's Seven Secrets gets an official announcement. The series was teased last week by Tom Taylor on Twitter when he shared the logo for the new series. The original series revolves around seven powerful secrets—words, wonders, weapons, and worse—with the power to change the world. “Imagine seven of the most earth-shattering, life-changing secrets—held safe since the beginning of mankind—let loose in the world, and you’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Tom and Daniele’s universe in SEVEN SECRETS,” said Dafna Pleban, Senior Editor via BOOM! press release. The hype train has come into the station today as Tom Taylor and Daniel Di Nicuolo's Seven Secrets gets an official announcement. The series was teased last week by Tom Taylor on Twitter when he shared the logo for the new series. The original series revolves around seven powerful secrets—words, wonders, weapons, and worse—with the power to change the world. “Imagine seven of the most earth-shattering, life-changing secrets—held safe since the beginning of mankind—let loose in the world, and you’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Tom and Daniele’s universe in SEVEN SECRETS,” said Dafna Pleban, Senior Editor via BOOM! press release.

BOOM! Studios announce ‘Seven Secrets’ for August 2020 by Tom Taylor and Daniele Di Nicuolo

Comic Books

X-Men Monday - Todd Nauck X-Men Monday - Todd Nauck

X-Men Monday #59 – Creator Spotlight: Todd Nauck

Comic Books

Marvel Comics has released their full July schedule after releasing their June to mid-July schedule a few short weeks ago. The new schedule reveals Marvel will continue to release comics on Wednesdays and will stop staggering single issue releases and collections every other week. It's a return to normal many fans will likely be happy with. Marvel Comics has released their full July schedule after releasing their June to mid-July schedule a few short weeks ago. The new schedule reveals Marvel will continue to release comics on Wednesdays and will stop staggering single issue releases and collections every other week. It's a return to normal many fans will likely be happy with.

Marvel Comics announces full July release schedule featuring Empyre, X-Men books, and more

Comic Books

Marvel Comics solicitations are back! The publisher's August 2020 solicitation list is one marker that the comic book industry is slowly returning to normal. Below you'll find cover art and synopses for every Marvel book scheduled to release in August. Marvel Comics solicitations are back! The publisher's August 2020 solicitation list is one marker that the comic book industry is slowly returning to normal. Below you'll find cover art and synopses for every Marvel book scheduled to release in August.

August 2020 Marvel Comics solicitations: the X-Men offer ‘more than you ever dreamed to ask for’

Comic Books

Connect
Newsletter Signup