Monday, 25 May 2015


The 2015 Cannes Film Festival awarded its top prize to a film about a trio of immigrants from Sri Lanka trying to adapt to a tough urban environment in Paris.

Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan
Dheepan, by French director Jacques Audiard, won the Palme d’Or for the story of a former Tamil Tiger fighter in the Sri Lankan civil war who immigrates to France with a fake family - a “wife” and “daughter” he hardly knows - and faces new challenges that require his old skills.

Many critics were surprised by the choice, but others said the Jury (headed by famed American filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen) had made a bold decision in awarding the prize to a film about such outsiders, not normally the stars of big-budget movies.

Britain's Independent newspaper called Dheepan  “a radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head, and takes a faceless immigrant coming from a war barely covered in the media and turns him into a [kind of] anti-hero”.

A scene from Dheepan (photo P. Arnaud)
The movie stars the France-based Sri Lankan writer Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who drew on elements in his own background for his screen portrayal, and Indian actress Kalieaswari Srinivasan, who plays his fake wife.

They arrive in Paris with their young “daughter” - a girl they have to travel with to give the semblance of a family - and end up in a bleak suburb of the capital, rife with crime. The film shows the unusual ways they find to cope with their new situation.

Some of the festival’s other prizes were more predictable. The Grand Prix (or second prize) went to the Hungarian Laszlo Nemes for his moving Holocaust drama Son of Saul while the Jury prize was given to Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos for his futuristic (and stomach-turning) story The Lobster, about people being forced to choose a mate or risk being turned into animals.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien (by Yao H-I)
Chinese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien was named best director for his martial-arts thriller The Assassin, and the best screenplay prize went to the young Mexican helmer Michel Franco for Chronic, about a nurse who works with terminally ill patients and who needs them as much as they need him.

Veteran French performer Vincent Lindon was named best actor for La Loi du Marché (The Measure of a Man), the story of a long-time unemployed worker who finally gets a job that turns out to be utterly soul-destroying. But in perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, Rooney Mara of female-love-story Carol, and Emmanuelle Bercot of destructive-relationship tale Mon Roi were jointly awarded the “best actress” prize.

Blanchett in Carol
Cate Blanchett, who probably gave the greatest performance of her career in Carol - an understated story about love between women in 1950s America - was inexplicably left out of the awards.

In the festival’s Un Certain Regard segment, comprising innovative and off-beat films, the top prize went to Grímur Hákonarson of Iceland for Rams, about two brothers reconciling to save their beloved animals, while Croatian director Dalibor Matanić won the Jury Prize for  Zvizdan (The High Sun), a literally heart-breaking and no-holds-barred look at the dangers of loving across ethnic lines in the Balkans.

Japan's Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the iconic Akira Kurosawa) meanwhile won the best director award for Kishibe No Tabi, or Journey to the Shore, a mystical tale about a husband who returns home three years after drowning at sea. 

The Avenir prize was awarded jointly to two talents to watch out for: Indian director Neeraj Ghaywan, for Masaan, a story about  moral choices; and the Iranian filmmaker Ida Panahandeh, for Nahid - about a divorced mother’s struggle to keep her children. Panahandeh was one of the few women directors represented at Cannes, an on-going issue for the festival.

A film still from Masaan (photo: K. Mehta)
In addition, Colombia’s Cesar Augusto Acevedo received the Camera d’Or (best first feature) for La Tierra y la Sombra, or Land and Shade, a film about a man going back to his family some 17 years after abandoning them and shown in the Semaine de la Critique section of the Festival, a sidebar to the Official Selection.

But here again, missing from the awards was the critically acclaimed Lamb by Ethiopian first-feature director Yared Zeleke (see SWAN’s previous article).

Lamb was one of our favourite movies shown at the festival, along with Mia Madre by Italian director Nanni Moretti. The latter, which touchingly depicts the grief that comes with a mother’s last days, also went away prize-less, just like the superb Timbuktu last year. With films, though, one person's feast is always another person's flub. - A.M.

(The Cannes Film Festival ran from May 13 to 24. For more information: