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Young Creatives Blog

The Wait and Dheepan Review

Wednesday 24 February 2016

  • Review

With Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche and under the guiding eyes of Paolo Sorrentino (director of The Great Beauty and Youth), The Wait isn’t by any means a small, independent debut for director Pierro Messina. Though surely trying to escape his tutor’s shadow, the Italian maestro’s influence is spread throughout; the exquisite cinematography, the perfectly chosen soundtrack and huge stars are as clear here as in of any Sorrentino’s films. The film starts with Anna (Binoche) receiving an unexpected guest in the form of Jeanne (Lou de Laage), her son’s girlfriend. Jeanne’s there to meet with her partner … but it quickly becomes clear that he won’t be visiting any time soon. And there’s an uneasy tension about his whereabouts that just won’t fade away.

Despite having four different screenwriters, maybe because of having four different screenwriters, this simple story is excessively stretched out over its feature length running time.  Messina has no trouble marvelling at the Italian backdrop – he can even make bags going through customs look beautiful, as is made clear in the outstanding opening sequence – but the cliché ‘style over substance’ is painfully apparent. Such a simple story can’t rely on Binoche’s solemn face to find its depth, and that’s a shame, because there are occasional moments of awe that hint at a much better, more haunting short film to be made here.

Messina treads a very fine line between assured and pretentious – if you’re on the fence about arthouse cinema, you’ll definitely slide into the latter. But this is a debut, and one that keeps me on edge throughout – not because of the story, but because I’m patiently waiting for Messina to find his own voice that we only see glimpses of throughout.

On the opposing end of the spectrum is Jaques Audiard’s Dheepan. I’ll start off by saying that it’s the film’s ending, and I’m being mindful of spoilers here, that’ll overshadow everything that came before it. It’s that type of ending. You can still feel it vibrating through the audience’s whispers as the credits roll.  And it isn’t what you’d expect from the story Audiard sets out with as the lights go down.

But that’s precisely what he’s so good at here. We give him our expectations, and he gives us some required medicine; a good wallop of reality. Minus the spoonful of sugar.

Having been on the losing side of the Sri Lankan War, Sivadhasan is given the passport of a dead man, Dheepan. Under this new identity, he grabs two literal strangers to pose as his family, a mother and daughter, and they’re off to France in the hope of a new, fresh and safe life. Safe being the important word here. Upon arrival, it quickly becomes apparent the council estate they are living in – in which Dheepan is the new caretaker – is a dangerous conflict zone in itself.

Audiard’s provided the audience with a work that can be read as a study of family, a modern take at displaced people, or a gritty crawl through the French lower-class. All of which it is. But it’s called Dheepan for a reason. You’ll probably forget this fact, as the film falters when choosing to follow Dheepan’s ‘wife’. Her character is handled in an unexpected new light – instead of embracing her new motherly role like the audience is led to believe she would, she tries to escape it and make her own life.  But it’s neither as riveting nor as torturous a watch than when Audiard brings Dheepan back to where he belongs; right in front of the camera.

Watching him trapped in his tiny shed, pathetically screaming a song from home, is painful viewing, and you feel every ounce of hope he does when any hint at a normal life shows. Jesuthasan Antonythasan’s debut performance is heartbreakingly honest and raw, and the best one so far this PIAF season.

But still, Dheepan won’t be for everyone. Without the no-holds-barred ending, the story prior to it would’ve been much less satisfying. This is mature film-making telling a story that’s never been more relevant. As the credits roll on a spectacular image, the cinematography is on point throughout, you’ll realise you’ve met countless Dheepan’s throughout your life or even know a few and you didn’t even realise it. Dheepan is simply necessary viewing, and there’s more to be said.