Director Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District is slow. Languorously slow. Like honey oozing off a comb. Like a flower unfurling. Like a relationship evolving over time.
Audiard’s film, which he co-wrote with Nicholas Livecchi and Lea Mysius based on stories by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, follows the intertwined lives of Emilie, Camille, Nora, and Amber over the course of a year, give or take. Friendships develop and wane. Love affairs start and end.
All is shot in gorgeous black and white except for a bit that’s rather startling and in color.
The cast members are stunning (Lucie Zhang as Emilie, Makita Samba as Camille, Noemie Merlant as Nora, and Jehnny Beth as Amber) and the camera delights in lingering over their often naked bodies. Their characters are complex and the actors play them with a realism and vulnerability that is frankly impressive.
It’s a realistic portrayal of a set of modern relationships with all the ecstasy and ugliness that makes them complicated and exciting and worth having.
The plot features dating apps, cam girls, death, real estate, cyberbullying, and MDMA. To say more about the story would wreck the experience of watching it and trying to anticipate how the characters’ lives will interconnect.
How many Jacques Audiard films have you seen? You should probably see all of them, including his latest, The Sisters Brothers.
Like his previous films (Rust and Bone, A Prophet, Dheepan), The Sisters Brothers starts out as one film, inserts another fascinating story, and as those two come together the movie unveils its true intent. Unlike Audiard’s other films, The Sisters Brothers is a Western.
We open with Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, respectively), two gunslingers for hire on the job. Their next big gig assigned by The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) will put them on the trail of a prospector in the 1850s West.
Phoenix, who is having a banner year even for him (if you haven’t already seen You Were Never Really Here and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, please do), plays the loose cannon brother. Making trouble is in his blood—a fact his brother is trying to forget.
Eli longs for something better for himself, something settled and adult. But he is bound to his brother and their friction bristles with the bonds and bondage of family. Reilly’s conflicted tenderness and responsibility mingle with a genuine longing that offers an emotional center for the film.
A few days’ ride ahead of the brothers is the tracker The Commodore hired to assist in the deed. Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Morris is an observer and a loner, a man who believes in his own intellect but is willfully blind to the consequences of his career choice—until he befriends the object of The Commodore’s interest, a chemist with ideals and a compound that seriously simplifies the act of finding gold.
Good-natured chemist Hermann Kermit Warm is played by Riz Ahmed (also having quite a year, back to back this week with his strong turn in the overly criticized Venom). He and Gyllenhaal remind you of the amazing chemistry they shared in 2014’s Nightcrawler. Though their characters couldn’t be more different this time around, the two actors again share a natural rapport that makes you a believer.
Peppered with fascinating images, intriguing side characters and the lonesome beauty that infects the best Westerns, Audiard’s film embraces a genre without bending to expectations. Does it all come down to daddy issues? Yes, but the longing for camaraderie and the quest for redemption has rarely been this charming.
The film meanders intentionally, serving the rugged outdoorsiness required of its genre, but relies on its four leads to craft fascinating characters whose relationships and destinies infect you with a hope often lacking in Westerns.
When you recommend this film, do not lead with “French, subtitled.” Though an accurate description on both counts, the association of moody cigarette smoking would do little to represent the raw heart of Dheepan.
Dheepan is a Tamil freedom fighter (called Tigers) who flees as the war begins its bloody close. Having lost his own wife and daughters, he must travel with Yalini (26) and Illayaal (9), posing as family to secure asylum in France.
These three strangers become dependent on one another for the facade that protects them. Unfortunately, fleeing Sri Lanka makes only minor improvements in their livelihoods, and the makeshift family discovers that war comes in sizes great and small.
Writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) is hyper-aware of light, using both color and shape to carve out living, breathing moments. Dheepan battles his monsters in a red-lit basement room. An elephant sways slowly in the dappled light of the forest. Yalini leaves the door open while she showers, and the blue light from the bathroom flickers teasingly.
This is the vision that truly guides the narrative, finding those quiet moments in-between the gruesome truths of war, gangs, poverty, immigrants, and trying to love someone you do not know.
The camera work, too, defines these moments. The close-up seems to be a favorite of Audiard, but it is not misused in context. The camera betrays when Dheepan’s world feels small and when it feels large. The watcher often feels like they are peering into rooms where they were not invited.
Jesuthasan Antonythasan’s Dheepan is stoic, contemplative, and yearning. You can feel his need for anything simple and real. His violence is believable and earned. Kalieaswari Srinivasan as Yalini builds a curious fear of the world and people around her. She is rarely likable, but always enthralling. That’s the humanity in Audiard’s characters, they are more real because they are less likeable, but this can make Dheepan harder to watch.
The film could lose 20 or 30 minutes, or at least appropriate it to the more aggressive scenes. Beautiful and real though it is, there are long periods where not much happens. Its pinnacle violence is gruesome and triumphant, leaving you wanting more. But a lust for violence is precisely what Dheepan and his family have been running from.
While we often like to suggest one newly available DVD and one older title worthy of looking up, this week we thought – screw that, there are two new ones we want to recommend! So that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re edgy like that.
Two first rate films release this week, beginning with Zero Dark Thirty, the gripping tale of the hunt for Osama bin Laden from director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal.
Look past the hyperbolic debate the film inspired, and you’ll find a work of meticulous craftsmanship that is bursting with intelligence, suspense, and a profound respect for the story it is telling.
Meanwhile, Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) , a gritty and punishing a tale of sexual redemption, tells of two broken people unconventionally well suited to each other. Crafting a spell of raw, emotional and sexual intimacy borne of struggle, writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) introduces two strangers (Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts). How do they find anything in common, let alone generate the fierce bond they share?
The chemistry between the leads keeps the film taut, and Audiard’s wandering storyline and loyalty to his characters forever surprises.