LFF 2015 - Mitzie Day! Dheepan / The Pearl Button

We're frankly so astounded that our new intern managed to produce any copy whatsoever from his days at the festival, we thought we'd give him his own day. So here we present, fresh from the slums of Rio, BS's latest recruit and the two movies he managed to watch out of 240. 



Jacques Audiard confirms he is the voice of the underdog with his latest psychological thriller, Dheepan.

The film centres on Dheepan, a Tamil freedom fighter, who travels to France with two strangers pretending to be a family so as to secure asylum more easily. Upon arriving in France, however, a war of sorts takes shape as the harsh reality of the French banlieue affect all three characters in different ways.

Audiard is a master of telling stories of those in the fringes of society. Here we are, listening to the story of a man from the Indian subcontinent whose first job in the new country is to sell undesirable bric-a-brac to tourists in Paris. We’ve all seen him, and we’ve all probably brushed him off without a second though as to what life he may lead. Audiard, on the other hand, not only does not brush him aside, he follows him intently through a journey of re-birth and reconciliation, of people whose destructive environment has the power to dictate entire life trajectories, and who ultimately just want a better life for themselves and those around them. 

The acting, as ever, is spot on. Dheepan’s faux wife Yalini is played with a resilient iciness that crumbles ever so slightly at the sight of the hood’s bad boy and her employer, Brahim. Illayaal, the child they pick at the refugee camp as their supposed daughter, gives a nuanced and mature performance that betrays her young age.

The dynamics between the three, as well as of each of them and their wider community, is played out with subtlety and tact, again something the director has mastered in his past work. Audiard’s films are all about the non-dits, and the immeasurable pain resides deep within, out of reach – and it’s all the more effective for it. 

In a time when refugees are reviled in the media, shrunk to non-persons and statistics, Dheepan is not only a great movie, but also a vital one for the understanding of humanity as we know today. Nor is it a treaty on free immigration: Dheepan’s shady past is slowly drawn out as chaos takes over the state-within-the-state of the banlieue, causing bloody havoc in its wake. It is, however, a daring insight where not many venture, lending voice, body and soul to a forgotten slice of European society.

Through two hours of film, Audiard has you caring for characters that often act selfishly, whose seeming goodness hide a much darker past, whose desperate actions may well seem cruel to outsiders. He forces you to sit there and understand that not all realities are the same, that environment and circumstance can define a person’s actions to the point of brutality. The movie does all that with tact, lending love to a tale that could so easily end in despair. Throughout the film, you feel the characters are trying as hard as they can to clutch to some idea of sanity, to move on after all the trauma. The director closes with a beautiful message, whereby salvation shall only come when barriers are broken and the solitude of yesterday can become the common denominator propelling all characters to move on to better things.




With The Pearl Button, Chilean master documentary maker Patricio Guzman delivers yet another study of his homeland’s recent history, although the results are never as effective as with some of his previous work. 

Guzman once more delves into dictatorship territory, in a format that suffers somewhat from the author’s humdrum narration (after hearing Pablo Neruda recite one of his poems to death, we may conclude monotonous monologues are a Chilean speciality). In his previous Nostalgia For the Light, Guzman raised complex and riveting parallels between the desert, the cosmos, and Pinochet’s “disappeared,” as the thousands of people who mysteriously vanished over the dictator’s sixteen-year reign are known as. This time, the director chooses to run parallels between water – Chile’s greatest neighbour – and the country’s history, running the gamut from colonisation to dictatorship.

Herein lies the problem: Guzman tries to engulf too many ideas into the one film, and the end result is nothing short of confusing. As he traces the tragic destiny of Chile’s southern tribes on the hands of succeeding governments and its sponsorship of cruel colonialists, the director manages to enrapture the audience with the plight of a forgotten people. However, he feels the need to return to his usual theme – that of the Chilean dictatorship – drawing grander parallels that feel like marijuana-induced meandering. It’s all too big, too abstract, to be put into context.

Guzman has already delivered a number of pivotal films around the topics of Pinochet and Allende, and maybe it’s time for the director to look elsewhere for inspiration. As urgently important as Battle of Chile or Nostalgia For the Light were, it seems like the director is purely repeating himself, looking for different analogies to repeat the same story. I was much more interested in hearing about the indigenous’ people stories, something which the director picked up and left aside, as an afterthought.

As painful as the memory of the Pinochet era is for all of those involved, Chile is a complex and vast land, with many other stories to be told. Maybe it is time for the director to let go of his obsession with a specific time when many died, and look around to those who still populate this most fascinating nation.