(Jacques Audiard, 2015)
The way Audiard combines poetic realism with gritty genre material remains unique in modern cinema. Dheepan may not be his strongest film, but it is still sensitive, riveting filmmaking.
It follows a Tamil Tiger soldier who escape Sri Lanka by pretending to be married to a young woman likewise seeking escape. They pretend a young orphan girl is their daughter and find themselves in a banlieue on the outskirts of autumnal Paris. Dheepan works as the caretaker for their housing estate, his 'daughter' learns French at school, while his 'wife' fearfully, confusedly hides away from the world until a job is found for her cooking and cleaning for a disabled old man. As they negotiate life in a country where they do not speak the language (they all appear to be fluent in English, and the woman talks of escaping to her cousin in London), they realise that some facts of life are universal. In this case that includes the men with guns who rule the estate - gangs of drug dealers patrolling the rooftops and stoops. But Dheepan was once just such a man with a gun, and traumatised as he is, it is not long until he is forced to use violence to defend those he has come to love.
That Taxi Driver-ish ending is impressive and hard won by a film that builds character and place patiently and with a fine eye for two hours. Audiard paints these three people with fine strokes; Dheepan himself is proud and in pain, widowed and mourning two children, shellshocked by the war which killed his entire unit, he stoically works and learns and falls in love with the woman pretending to be his wife slowly and despite himself. She is more complex; angry and at odds with her environment until her job allows her to find who she is once again. The scene where she seduces her 'husband' is erotic and realistic in just the right amounts.
The girl meanwhile noisily adapts.
Audiard details all this with his usual intimacy; allowing us into the characters heads at moments, showing the way they perceive things, the subjective truth of moments revealed and then snatched away again. At the same time we learn the life of the estate, its patterns and rules, its geography.
All this pays off in the bloody, dreamlike chaos of the climax.
Which is - brilliantly, surprisingly - followed by a blissfully happy ending.