Agreeing to differ, September 2016
Jon Foster and Michael Rowan
Introduction by Michael
The CFS Committee have their most serious debates over the content of the forthcoming season and I wondered if Jon and I would clash. He had such strong opinions about the films he liked and backed up his well framed arguments with the opinions of acclaimed film critics.
As I saw it there was just one problem - he didn’t necessarily agree with me.
So if you always wondered what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object this may well be the article for you.
Let me introduce you to a new series of film related articles that consider the films that we have both seen as part of the Chiltern Film Society season (a season we both helped put together) plus some films that are on general release (if we can agree which ones of course).
I am Michael Rowan, self opinionated film lover who enjoys the post-film debate almost as much as the film itself. I have a number of film buddies with whom to discuss the fine and not so fine points of the film but none that are members of the Chiltern Film Society.
My adversary is Jon Foster, though it beats me how someone who recently outed himself as a closet devotee of Notting Hill can have the gall to flaunt his views on cinema.
So without further ado, let the games begin……
Here is our debate about Dheepan, the 2nd film in the current season, screened on 21st September 2016:
Well, I wasn't altogether sure what to make of CFS’s latest offering, Dheepan. Reflecting on it later that evening I decided it was quite impressive. Now, the day after, I've started picking holes in it.
It struck me as a film of two halves. Despite a slow start, the first half seemed more convincing, gradually engrossing in its depiction of migrants pitting their wits to overcome the obstacles stacked against them, the challenge of trying to adjust to an alien language and culture, and the sheer oddness involved in three strangers trying to function as a family while getting to know one another.
In the second half the intensity built up, as did the violence, all leading to that climactic shoot-out which I felt was very stylishly filmed, if rather melodramatic and almost seeming to belong to another film.
So what did you make of it?
I start this conversation at something of a disadvantage. Work commitments mean that I arrive just after the film starts and so I do not have the benefit of Andy’s excellent introduction. In fact I arrived just as Dheepan was burning his trousers and his would be wife was asking about orphaned children, and so assumed that was why I took so long to get into it. I found it very hard to empathise with Yahlini although I suppose I did feel her unease in the old man’s flat and in fairness the tension in those scenes were palpable. The scene with the mad colonel seemed to disappear without any resolution I thought the ending was a tad clichéd and something of a cop out. Surely it would have been better to cut the scene set in England? Definitely the sort of film that CFS should include.
You missed only the opening scene – a mass cremation of corpses. It’s not surprising that you found it difficult to get into, as the viewer is pitched right into the film with little explanation, emphasising the chaotic situation at the end of the war.
Like you, I thought the scene with the colonel seemed to stand in isolation. However, it did herald a change in Dheepan: although not returning to the Tamil cause, we see him singing his old war songs and becoming increasingly fiercely protective of his territory. He retains a warrior’s mentality, and almost inevitably this becomes translated into action.
I share your view of the final scene, which presented an unbelievably idyllic picture of England as a safe and welcoming haven to migrants. The apparent peace and prosperity at the end was a puzzling contrast to the apocalyptic carnage in the Parisian tower block.
Yours rather bemusedly
I think my biggest problem is that I want to like it more whilst recognising that it is a basically a good film I find myself questioning why I am not more enthusiastic. I wonder if it lost something in the edit or if the budget proved too constricting for the ambition? I certainly felt that with the apocalyptic scene at the end. It felt like it was been set up for a blockbuster shoot out and then much of it happened off camera or we were shown the post action. Also who was the old man in the flat. It wasn’t as though they were being discrete and hiding their criminal activity. So was he related to one of the bad guys? If none of the above it was just a clumsy device to get Yahlini into the flat.
Yours in reluctant agreement
Begrudgingly, I agree. The old man was the father of the guy with the electronic tag, who it seemed was confined to the home. But there were certainly areas that felt contrived - one of which was the characters’ ability to understand French, which fluctuated depending (seemingly) on plot requirements.
The final shoot-out was not the only violent incident which one feared and assumed would have drastic consequences, only for the opposite to happen without explanation. Earlier the daughter (a most beguiling performance) responded to being shunned by her schoolmates with a sudden and unexpected knock-out punch, but instead of suspension the result seemed to be that she happily settled in at school. Then her mother responded to perceived criticism by violently slapping her, but this appeared only to dispel misunderstandings and bring them closer together. What is the director’s message here?
I must be getting soft in my old age but you have a point about the use of violence to move the plot nowhere.
The scene below the Sacre Couer where Dheepan was selling cheap tat brought me up short as I recall my priggish response to that very scene many years ago. A good job that no one could see me blush.
I think we both wanted a more nuanced film but then neither of us are film directors.
Good at conjuring up the tension but perhaps more time establishing the main characters and their motivation would have made it easier to empathise with them, including the young man in the flat.
We have both been fairly critical but I didn’t think it was a bad film and I think that it is exactly the sort of film that CFS should be showing as I can’t imagine where else I might have caught it.
Yours wearing flashing Deely Boppers