War and Peace. Movies reviewed: À la vie, Dheepan

Posted in 1960s, Acting, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Movies, Thriller, War, WWII by CulturalMining.com on May 20, 2016


Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The War and Peace Report is Democracy Now’s morning news show – it’s on the radio right after this one. Be sure to stay tuned because todayScreen Shot 2016-05-20 at 2.01.43 PM
host Amy Goodman is broadcasting from Toronto. So my theme this week is war and peace, and I’m looking at two new dramas from France. There are three war survivors who carry their emotional baggage to the beach, and three other war survivors who arrive with minimal baggage at a crime-filled housing complex.

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À la vie

Dir: Jean-Jacques Zilbermann

It’s the early 1960s in Calais, France. Hélène and Lili are good friends meeting up to spend three days relaxing on the beach in Berck in northern France. Hélène (Julie Depardieu) is a wispy, ginger- haired woman, always loving and giving. She works as a men’s tailor in Paris. Lili (Johanna ter Steege) arrives by bus from Amsterdam, a smartly-dressed modern woman with blonde hair. And she brings a surprise: their third friend, the voluptuous but petulant Rose (Suzanne Clément). She flew in all the way from Montreal for this get-together. And what is it that connects these three woman and why haven’t they seen each other since 1945?

They’ve been separated because they were all prisoners at Auschwitz. They survived IMG_4811together thanks to Lili getting them work in the kitchen. But in the death march at the end of the war they were separated, and thought the youngest one, Rose, died there. Now the three of them are together again, and all three married other survivors. Lili is divorced, Rose has a troubled marriage in Quebec, and Helene, though she loves her husband, Henri, lives a sexless life. She’s still a virgin since her husband suffered horrible mutilation in the camps.

They are staying at a beachside apartment courtesy of Raymond, a handsome communist IMG_8653from the French Resistance during the war. He still has a thing for the married Hélène. Haunted by their past the three friends save every scrap of food and reuse teabags over and over. They catch up on their missing history as they play in the waves. The beach is filled with girls in bikinis and boys in trunks, Club Mickey, and everyone dancing the twist. Especially a young animateur, a camp counsellor on the beach named Pierre. He likes Hélène, and he’ll kiss her if she lets him. Will Helene be faithful to her husband, forge a relationship with a rich communist or a try a fling with the Club Mickey counsellor?

A La Vie is a light friendship drama set against a heavy topic – Holocaust survivors. Aside from the period nostalgia – beach life in 1960s France — the best thing about the movie is the three friends and the actors who play them so well. Julie Depardieu as hesitant Helene Gerard Depardieu’s daughter, Dutch actress ter Steege is excellent as Lili, and Suzanne Clement (as Rose) who’s featured in Xavier Dolan’s movies – she’s fantastic as Rose. A light movie, but well done.

0b6aad33-d486-4749-be33-21de49ba6dedDheepan

Dir: Jacques Audiard

Dheepan and Yalini (Jesuthasan Antonythasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan) are a young Tamil couple in France. They arrive in France with their cute daughter Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) and are resettled in a public housing complex. They are refugees from the Sri Lankan civil war. At last they have escaped the horror of death and violence, and can live like a normal family in France. The thing is, they’re not actually a family at all. Dheepan is a former Tamil Tiger who needed to get out of Sri Lanka, fast. They put together a fake family, strangers from the refugee camp786e87f9-026a-451d-9176-35521ac38e49
that would match the description on his visa – a married couple with a young daughter. It worked, but what will their life be like in France?

Not great. Far from paradise, their lives are cold, dark and miserable. They soon discover their housing complex is a haven for Russian gangsters, and a hangout for sketchy teenage druggies. Dheepan works as a caretaker for the buildings and Yalini finds work as a caregiver for a dying old man. Their fake daughter is doing worst of all, with no support at home; her parents are at best indifferent to her problems, and at worst outright mean to her.

But they face even more trouble from the outside. Yalini’s patient is the father

c723b322-db43-42ff-a48d-c7120aee231eof an especially violent gang leader, holed up in his apartment, facing attacks from rival gangs. She’s Hindu but wears a make-shift hijab to stop unwanted sexual advances. Dheepan, though he keeps his head low, gets involved in conflicts between the buildings. And Tamil Tigers based in France want him to return to the fold and act as a gun runner for them. With a major gang war on the horizon, and violence escalating, Dheepan is forced to return to his past role as a soldier and fight b08630ed-2462-4179-be6b-307a1b54905afor his family’s lives.

Dheepan is a dramatic action/thriller with a good story, but it didn’t exactly grab me. It was interesting to watch, but I could only observe, not connect with the main characters. I was troubled that it portrays refugees as potential sleeper-cell terrorists. It’s directed by Audiard – who made two fantastic French movies,  The Prophet and Rust and Bone — so maybe I set my bar especially high. Dheepan isn’t as good as those two, but it’s definitely still worth seeing.

Dheepan is playing now and À la vie opens today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

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