PFF24: Dheepan (Jacques Audiard, FRA)

Dheepan is Jacques Audiard’s latest that follows the titular Sri Lankan refugee from his war-torn homeland to a slummy housing project in a Parisian suburb. Forced to assume the guise of a familial unit with a mock wife and daughter, Dheepan’s role as caretaker is welcome as he works toward establishing a life of normalcy. When the complex neighboring his family’s is revealed to be harboring gang activity, Dheepan’s woes reach beyond his modest domicile into his nightmarish past and increasingly uncertain future.

Let it first be known that I appreciated Rust & Bone for what it was despite its obscenely overwrought tendencies. It was above all a tale of unlikely friendship blossoming in the face of tragedy, and all told, the film is a serviceable if tone-deaf mess. I’ve yet to see A Prophet, but Dheepan is ostensibly an objectively dissimilar extension of his previous work. The specificity of its run-of-the-mill refugee narrative is engaging enough as Dheepan and family arduously acclimate themselves to a foreign locale, but unavoidably hokey story beats – familial bonding especially – don’t do much to procure emotional investment. Dheepan, his wife and daughter are characters and serve their respective purposes within a setting along a timeline, yet none of what transpires is especially affecting due to a lack of overall dynamism.

Dheepan‘s insistence on tension building via subplots abound is needless, the most absurd of which involves Dheepan’s past coming back to haunt him in the form of a delusional and disturbed former general. What ensues is a means of inebriated, heavy-handed foreshadowing that culminates in a latter-act bloodbath so insane that everything preceding it is rendered an afterthought. Banality is further accentuated by a mere modicum of non-handheld camera techniques, the oft-seen “gritty realism” approach doing little to evoke the visceral response it intends to despite harshly-rendered living conditions.

It’s apparent that Audiard knows how to pander to his intended audience with Dheepan. While its central family’s struggle is certainly worth investing in, the basic fish-out-of-water drama spawned by circumstantial misfortune bogs everything down considerably. The script blatantly glad-hands a crazy confrontational climax given the story’s familiar and bleak disposition, peppering itself with enough requisite human moments to keep us invested. The full package is something noteworthy if glaringly emulative of other gritty realist efforts, Audiard’s own included.

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