The Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival 2015, Dheepan finally arrives in cinemas this week. Dheepan follows a trio of Sri Lankan refugees seeking to make a life in France, deciding that posing as a family gives them a better chance of success. Incredibly visceral and powerful, it’s a typically beautiful film tackling tough subject matter: a hallmark of the work from filmmaker, Jacques Audiard.
It takes a long time for each new Audiard film to come out – his last was in 2012 – but boy, are they worth the wait. There’s probably no-one quite like him working in the French film industry today, or indeed, the film industry as a whole. Ineffably cool, pipe-smoking and unafraid, Audiard handles intriguing, dark and difficult stories with aplomb. He’s won 2 BAFTAs, 4 Cesars and an Oscar, to name just a few awards to his name.
But if you’re unfamiliar with Audiard’s work – or love it and want more – here are five good places to start:
Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os), 2012
Audiard’s most recent work, featuring Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and the soon-to-be-everywhere Matthias Schoenaerts, is a moving story about a former prizefighter and a whale trainer. It’s a love story, for sure, but the physical damage suffered by the two central characters – Schoenaerts’ Ali fights illegally and Cotillard’s Stephanie loses both her legs above the knee – makes the relationship by turns brutal, tender, hopeful and flawed.
This is the film that won Audiard the Oscar for Best Film in a Foreign Language and made a star of its lead, Tahar Rahim. Set in a jail controlled by the Corsican mafia (who knew?), Malik (Rahim) is pulled into prison politics when the gang’s head, Cesar Luciani (Nils Arestrup) demands he commit a murder to save his own life. It’s tense and violent and captivating. Audiard said that when he cast Rahim, ‘there was this instant feeling of love at first sight […] really don’t know what I’d have done had I not found him. I still wake up in sweats thinking about that question.’
The Beat that My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté), 2005
Ostensibly a remake of the James Toback film Fingers, this drama about a street thug wanting to be a concert pianist has Audiard’s own fingerprints all over it. Romain Duris is stunning as Thomas, a man capable of doing the mean, dirty things required in his work as a slum landlord, while simultaneously suffering under the pressure of living up to his father’s expectations. The support from Nils Arestrup, Aure Atika, (lately of The Night Manager and Spin) and Linh Dan Pham is excellent.
Read My Lips (Sur mes lèvres), 2001
A lowly office worker with hearing problems, Carla (Emmanuelle Devos) is the definition of a doormat. Treated disposably by her friends and colleagues, things start to change when she’s allowed to hire an assistant of her own at work, and chooses the thin and nervous petty criminal Paul (Vincent Cassel). Drawn into his illegal dealings – and enjoying it – her talent for lip reading proves crucial to the success of their endeavours. Audiard co-wrote the screenplay, as well as directing – the way the story and the performances come together is quite remarkable.
A Self-Made Hero (Un héros très discret), 1996
This film was Audiard’s first international hit. Mathieu Kassovitz stars as Albert Dehousse, a drifter who creates his own identity after the Second World War, namely that of a Resistance hero. Impressing men and women alike, Albert finds it surprisingly easy to create a new identity for himself – and is surprised in turn at how easy it is to be believed. As Audiard put it at a press conference at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, ‘let me say that Albert is an odd character – and what is important is that he does not lie. He insinuates, but mostly he lets other people draw conclusions from his own silence.’ A fascinating parable about making your own identity and the value of truth.
Watch trailer (in French)
And one for luck…
Venus Beauté Institute (1999)
This one’s not technically Audiard’s, as it’s directed by Tonie Marshall, but he did write the script for this beauty salon-set film, which boasts a really great female-led cast with Nathalie Baye, Bulle Ogier, Mathilde Seigner and a young, up and coming Audrey Tautou. This is a bittersweet drama, with moments of comedy, satire and romances of sorts. The film’s not perfect, but Baye’s fantastic central performance and smart script makes this a pleasure to watch.
Dheepan is on general release in the UK from Friday 8 April.