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.


TIFF 2012: Rust & Bone (Jacques Audiard, BEL/FRA)

Rust & Bone, a.k.a. Jacques Audiard’s heartrending, moreover audacious follow-up to 2009′s A Prophet is, for lack of better phrasing, something that refreshingly treads through openly familiar territory. Focusing on two inherently damaged individuals – Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a vagabond single father with a five-year-old son in tow and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an eccentric loose cannon and whale trainer at a local aquatic zoo – the duo meets one night outside of a bustling local nightclub, a fateful exchange between them marking the beginning of an initially uneasy if increasingly important friendship that brings a discernible sense of normalcy to their respective lives.

Following a tragic turn of events at Steph’s place of employment, the stage is set rather early on as we quickly get a feel for what each central character struggles with on a day-to-day basis, each of their predicaments growing more dire until they receive their requisite daily dose of, well, each other. It’s rather warming to witness this relationship blossom at first, what with Ali and Steph forgoing their respective daily routines to instead bring each other happiness, whether it’s during a leisurely swim out to sea or a bare-knuckle boxing match to make a quick dollar to support Ali’s son and sister. Given the film’s length, it’s safe to consider that some of this content could’ve been trimmed to better suit the taxing nature of the fractured narrative at its core, thus avoiding excess and hitting very few sour notes as things chug (mostly) glumly along.

This in mind, Rust & Bone rarely strikes a competent balance between uplifting and genuinely soul-crushing, thus molding it into a tonally scatterbrained work that becomes somewhat predictable as it enters its latter act. Even as messiness remains a constant amid the film’s generally chaotic state of being both structurally and philosophically, it’s hard to deny that the production as a whole is anything but readily accessible. Despite its unflinching depiction of the protagonists’ frequently awful luck, Rust & Bone‘s strong suits outweigh its weaker ones, making Audiard’s latest an emotionally satisfying roller coaster ride from Hell that has a wicked mean streak, but when it hits its highs, it does so very admirably. All things considered, Rust & Bone is a welcome change of pace benchmarked by superb performances and the fortitude to embrace the darker walks of life at the behest of some more conservative viewers.