feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Included In Lists:
Criterion Collection - #871
Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone was a problematic film that attempted to juggle two separate character arcs that rarely felt seamless or as impactful as it could have been. However, performances were strong, notably from a committed Marion Cotillard who played a whale trainer who recently lost her lower limbs. Though Audiard managed to propel and succeed in 2015’s Cannes Film Festival, there was a hint of hesitation from me, thinking that familiar footsteps would be taken with it’s storytelling and would fail to make a positive impression on me.
To my surprise, his new film, despite it’s adherence to some storytelling structures and execution to his last film, still managed to leave a great impression on me. Dheepan, the film’s title and the name of it’s protagonist (played by Antonythasan Jesuthasan), revolves around the struggling transition of it’s titular character and his newly falsified family from Sri Lanka to France. His sense of defeat and loss in his home country’s war has pushed him to escape and rebuild a hopeful and peaceful life, while his surrogate wife and child exist to ensure such a familiar family portrait could be maintained. Yet his ‘wife’ Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) has other intentions, hoping to elope to England where her cousin is living.
For the bulk of the film’s first half covers their difficult transition, the common conditions of a refugee. Working late hours, living in a competent but cramped apartment, starting fresh in an isolating school, and the dark reality of the country’s slums. We see the dramatic reaches of this initial portion to be more miniature, gentle, and intimately human. It tackles the commonality of humanity’s daily grind, revealing the discomforting disconnect and tiresome demand in order to keep things afloat - elements that extend not just to their new responsibilities as caretakers of an apartment complex in the slums, but also in their own home as a family unit.
Audiard tackles upon such small fragments effortlessly and gracefully, creating significant impact without necessarily propelling it’s plot or condensing it’s atmosphere for a direct and sharp effect onto his viewers. Instead, he lets things quietly boil, compact scenes with honest but engaging dialogue and interactions, and take on a curious perspective that showcases his characters attempting to establish rapport and understanding of not just of the people that surround them, but also the environment that they inhabit and the culture that define it, contrasting it to their own back home.
As the film’s plot begins to progress along, the momentum and drama start to evolve, of which now aspects begin to trigger our protagonist as elements of their current circumstance start to evoke a far too strong of a familiarity that starts to impart a confronting threat to himself and his family. Audiard thankfully does not completely drop the ball with this transition, but aspects do feel far less genuine and emotionally inviting as compared to what was previously offered. Had the film retained the aesthetic of it’s first half and still found a way to equally challenge and develop it’s characters, then I would have considered this film to be overall perfect.
Yet, that being said, Dheepan is still a wonderful film to behold, with it’s story unfolding in a manner that is truly cinematically mesmerising, donning a cloak of confidence in the way scenes are executed and amplified through it’s camerawork. Audiard is really in control here, even if certain decisions were not to my personal taste. Dheepan is a very human film, captures the little things that are often glossed over in cinema for the sake of simplicity and aggressive momentum. Therefore for this, I am thankful.