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Dheepan – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

While I’ve mainly tackled reviews of Criterion Collection films that reflect the past, it is neat to deal with something more modern. Dheepan is a 2015 French film that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of Tamil refugees reconstructing their lives in France. The film comes from writer-director Jacques Audiard, who has made several films, but caught my attention with the prison crime-drama A Prophet and followed that up with also great romance drama Rust and Bone. While Dheepan draws from some other notable films, it still serves as a new step for Audiard, which can be explored further, now that it is available on this involving Criterion Blu-ray.

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Film:

The film opens with a look at the final days of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) was on the losing side and decides to move to France to get a fresh start. To do so, he must be a part of a cover story that involves taking the identity of a dead man and bringing two others along to serve as his wife and daughter. Now going as Dheepan, he is joined in his new life in France with two people he hardly knows posing as his family. Dheepan eventually finds a job as a caretaker for a housing problem, which is controlled by drug dealers. Despite having secured safety from war, a whole new series of conflicts present themselves, as Dheepan finds himself being pushed to take up arms once again.

I have not seen all of Audiard’s films, but while Dheepan may not measure up to the ones I have seen, there is still a moving story being told here. What it lacks in an electric sense of excitement, it trades in for some moving material that focuses on introspection and psychological struggles. Now, those elements can be found in A Prophet and Rust and Bone as well, but this film is balancing something different.

Dheepan is providing a unique relationship drama in the midst of a film that’s also tackling gang culture. The gang aspect is just flavoring, as the deeper struggle is seeing Dheepan and Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) do their best to become the couple they are posing as. This is something that is more or less happening in a natural sense but having the familial connections thrust upon them sets up an entirely different dynamic. Along with young Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) doing her best to settle into a new life as a student in a French school, this is a group of people who are attempting to build something as a unit in a way that is hardly traditional.

That is interesting to see unfold and it calls to mind the similar type of drama found in Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s work. This script, co-written by Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre, may not be as accomplished as what the great Farhadi has been pulling off, but Audiard is a flashier director, which does allow the film to build its identity, which is a good thing of course. This is especially important because of the threat level that comes from the setting these characters are living in.

While there is enough to see come out of a relationship drama from a newly formed family, the more dangerous conflict comes from the gang aspect. As I watched this aspect of the drama unfold, I realized that Audiard was drawing on another film that will soon be entering the Criterion Collection – Straw Dogs. The 1971 Sam Peckinpah thriller does seem to serve as an inspiration for how Dheepan advances its story. Now, I’m not a big fan of that film, but I can appreciate its structure being somewhat repurposed for a story about refugees dealing with a whole new crisis. That added societal element gives the film a different sort of edge that plays well.

At nearly two hours, there is enough to appreciate, but the final minutes do become something of a struggle. The flashiness of the direction takes the film in an interesting direction, but I’m not quite sure it all works. Add to that an epilogue that does tie things up a bit too neatly, and it seems Dheepan merely arrives close to true greatness. Still, the film accomplishes plenty, including the basic setup that spurs on such an interesting story.

Thanks to the confident direction and strong performances from non-actors, Dheepan presents a struggle that balances naturalistic qualities with some genre thrills. I suppose there is also something to say about European politics, as the film does present a broad mix of local and ethnic characters living a certain kind of life, but that comes with the drama that a viewer should engage with and see unfold. Given the strength of the film as a whole, I’m sure plenty can take in a variety of thoughts on how everything settles and whether or not the film is successful in conveying both a strong message and an accomplished formation of characters pushed into a relationship.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: Dheepan is a modern film shot digitally, so it is not surprising to see the level of quality that could already be found before being brought into the Criterion Collection. That in mind, this disc does feature a film that had its transfer supervised by Audiard and his cinematographer Eponine Momenceau. The results look great, as the film does a fine job of presenting a lot of well-shot footage, both indoors and outdoors, which allows for a great level of clarity. The details can especially be found in the various apartment homes.

Depth: One can take away a lot from the use of depth in this film, which comes along nicely thanks to this transfer. You get a good sense of dimensionality based on the spacing between characters such as the gangs and Dheepan’s family at various moments.

Black Levels: There are some night time scenes that do a fine job of showing just how deep and inky the black levels are throughout.

Color Reproduction: This is a fairly drab movie, but colors do emerge regarding clothing choices and random objects scattered around residences. So you can say there are natural colors that register strong enough throughout.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures are great. We are treated to plenty of shots of these characters at varying distances, and the clarity is always strong.

Noise/Artifacts: This film is clean.

Audio:

Audio Format(s): French (and some Tamil) 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: There is nothing to complain about here. Dheepan features an excellent audio track that does everything it needs to have the viewer enjoy the experience from an auditory standpoint. The movement of characters is easily reflected by how sound travels across the mix.

Low Frequency Extension: Some of the bigger moments in the film add some extra value to the LFE channel.

Surround Sound Presentation: Thanks to the 5.1 lossless soundtrack, there is nothing to miss out on regarding the balance found throughout. The front and center channels do their job and the rear channels are brought in when necessary.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everybody is heard.

Extras:

The expected level of quality can be found in the special features section, as Dheepan provides two engaging interviews, deleted scenes and a commentary. Each of these things provides more beneficial context about both the making of the film and the context in which it exists on various levels.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with director Jacques Audiard and Co-Screenwriter Noe Debre – Recorded in 2015. In French with English subtitles.
  • Interview with director Jacques Audiard (HD, 22:00) – An interview allowing Audiard to discuss his vision for the film and other aspects of the story. In French with English Subtitles.
  • Interview with actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan (HD, 22:00) – An interview allowing novelist and actor Jesuthasan to discuss his childhood, position during the war and status as a refugee in various countries. In Tamil with English subtitles.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 9:00) – Featuring optional commentary from Audiard and Debre. In French with English subtitles.
  • Trailer (HD, 2:00)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic Michael Atkinson

 

Summary:

Dheepan is another solid addition to The Criterion Collection’s massive library and certainly an interesting film to see. It contains an intriguing story that clashes with other socio-political elements, providing a unique relationship drama for viewers to consider. As expected, the Criterion treatment means getting a Blu-ray with terrific video and audio transfers. One also gets a great set of extras that do a fine job as additional supplements to the feature. Dheepan has a lot going for it, as it’s a strong psychological study with some other neat genre aspects thrown in.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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