A scene from Jacques Audiard's  Dheepan  {Photo: SUNDANCE SELECTS}

A scene from Jacques Audiard's Dheepan {Photo: SUNDANCE SELECTS}

Unfairly dismissed among some cinephile circles as “middle-brow”, Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or victory must of come across to some as exceedingly dour, particularly as he was in competition with such bonafide auterists like Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Assassin) and Todd Haynes (Carol). Not to mention other formidable filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetery of Splendor) and Corneliu Porumboiu (The Treasure) were relegated to the Un Certain Regard ghetto. I, for one, do not share in this Audiard Antagonism™ but rather enjoy his work, especially the 2012 melodrama Rust and Bone. He’s a director with a keen sense of craft and an unusual penchant for stitching familiar narrative limbs into something resembling Frankenstein’s monster. Rarely are his films ushered as breathtakingly fresh and nuanced, but never do they fit in any convenient narrative category; they’re peculiar. Look no further than Dheepan, a film that begins as a Sri Lankan immigrant fable in France, mutates into a domestic drama akin to the work of Satyajit Ray, and then sputters into a revenge fantasy of Taxi Driver caliber. 

How convincing these narrative transformations are depends on the viewer, but it’s not as if one can harbor any particular grudge against how Audiard conceives of these shifts. He’s an intelligent filmmaker, with a particular knack for drawing parallels between the mental headspace of a character and their physical environment. He’s also especially deft in drawing out surprising performances from his actors. This was less surprising coming out of someone like Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, but Dheepan utilizes a slew of unknowns to explore the Sri Lankan immigrant plight in a land with an unfortunate history of expatriate hostility. Jesuthasan Antonythasan (with only one previous acting credit prior to Dheepan) and Kalieaswari Srinivasan (this is her debut) are excellent in their demanding roles, which take them through an impoverished gutter to a French ghetto, where their disenfranchisement echoes as an inescapable reality. 

This, however, is not among Audiard’s best writing efforts and shows clear signs of multiple hands realigning its dramatic intentions (Audiard shares writing credits with two other writers, frequent collaborator Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré). The blast of violence that composes the final act of the picture is notably ill-advised, even as it highlights some of Audiard’s strongest tendencies as an inherently primal filmmaker - making even the most structurally dubious of Audiard’s decisions come across as stubbornly refined. Yet it’s no real surprise that Dheepan would secure a Palme victory, as Audiard’s multiple and wildly varied narratives are all rendered with kinetic aplomb. It’s bound to please a broad spectrum, which is perhaps why Audiard is often marked as a filmmaker for the dilettante. But there’s virtue to be extracted from his raw method of filmmaking; those who ignore his efforts are missing out.