By Leonard Klady


Dheepan, from Jacques Audiard, who made The Prophet (also Cannes-prized), is the assumed name of the title character. He’s one of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels. As the film opens he struggles with his commitment to the cause and knows that what lies ahead is persecution or death. The character chooses to re-create himself as a political refugee and flee the country. At the suggestion of a border representative he “adopts” a young woman and a girl to pose as his family. They only know what they’re escaping cannot be worse than where they will be sent. The latter turns out to be France and one of the more violent banlieus of Paris where he becomes the caretaker of a housing project with an ongoing turf war between drug gangs.

At its heart, Audiard’s film is about identity. In the process of starting a new life his trio of refugees have the additional hurdle of adopting roles that have little bearing on their pasts. Ironically, the scenario playing out in the building among the locals is presented as more tenable to their experience than they are allowed to admit.

It’s also clear that none of them wants to be drawn into the battle. Dheepan and his “wife” Yalini have sufficient difficulty simply sharing quarters as a couple with an even more mysterious school child in the mix. Apart from the domestic dilemmas, his anxiety level builds as it comes clear that survival in the new environment likely means adopting the very things he’d abandoned at the Sri Lanka border.

As shown in his earlier films, Audiard takes on tough subjects and walks the tightrope that threatens to tumble into the banal and exploitive. There’s no denying Dheepan is a precarious perch. Yet amid the terrifying veracity he never loses site of the underlying humanity of his displaced people as well as the culturally dispossessed folk that populate the projects. It’s a grim existence observed under a microscope and, at this time of force migration, a poignant reminder of the plight domestic and foreign that society foolishly hopes will right itself.

The mood of The Lobster is comparably downbeat, albeit muted by an irrepressible strain of black comedy. Set in the near future, Yorgos Lanthimos’ film paints a society where it’s a crime to be single and that applies across the board to those who’ve lost mates to death or new lovers. The compassionate side of this new order is a retreat where other solos reside are hopefully will spark new unions.

All those in such circumstances have 45 days to get connected or…

Failure has steep consequences. New arrivals are asked what animal they’d like to be by the administrators of the facility. David (Colin Farrell), the protagonist, knows all too well what that means as he’s accompanied by a dog who was his brother before being transformed.

It doesn’t really matter what led this future world to adopt this societal norm. It’s the one rule that has no option for debate or compromise. Director and co-writer Lanthimos _ who made his international debut with the audacious Dogtooth _ is in his element observing this oddball milieu, its denizens and the regulations that govern their path to normalization.

The dos and don’ts are genuinely bizarre including, politely, the appropriate employ of masturbation. The comparably peculiar residents have a neediness and desperation that is partly innate, partly the product of the dictates of the world they inhabit_a metaphor for the debate on nurture or nature.

The dilemma with the film is that while rich in instance and observation, its structure thwarts an organic conclusion, save for the underlying dire dictum. Dramatically there’s something basically false about David opting for a “jail break” and going rogue with a handful of other internees. The filmmakers fail to bridge the contrast between the defined and the radical and The Lobster ultimately trips over its ambition.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon