CANNES: The top honour at the Cannes Film Festival’s awards evening Sunday went to “Dheepan”, a fast-paced, emotionally rich thriller about refugees fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war and seeking to build new lives in France.
The picture by acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard tells the story of a former Tamil Tiger fighter who is traumatised by the brutality he has encountered.
The film opens with victims of a massacre burning on a funeral pyre as the man, Dheepan, looks on.
Soon after, in a refugee camp, he meets a young woman and a nine-year-old girl. To win passage to France, they assume the identities of a dead family and use their travel papers.
They arrive, still strangers to each other and speaking no French, in social housing in a rough Paris suburb, where drug gangs are waging their own war in dilapidated tower blocks.
Dheepan finds work as a caretaker on the estate while his purported wife Yalini accepts a job as a cook and a maid for the disabled uncle of one of the drug lords.
But as the trio grows closer, they come under attack by the gangsters and Dheepan must revive the soldier inside him to protect his “family”.
A violent climax gives way to a cathartic resolution that offers hope that the three can put their bloody past behind them.
Film industry bible Variety called the picture “well-acted and gripping” but faulted an unconvincing ending.
It “unfolds in solidly involving, carefully observed fashion for much of its running time, until it takes a sharp and heavy-handed turn into genre territory from which it never quite recovers”.
Reviewer Andrew Pulver of The Guardian newspaper called the film an “immensely powerful work”, giving it four out of five stars.
“Dheepan is as interested in the accretion of detail, and thereby understanding what makes a family unit work, as in the rituals of street combat,” he said.
“Audiard possesses a lyricism that makes his film stand out, even in the final bloody confrontation.”
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