CANNES, France (AP) — Before making the Sri Lankan immigrant drama "Dheepan," French director Jacques Audiard acknowledged he couldn't have even found his characters' native country on a map.
Audiard premiered "Dheepan" on Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival where critics warmly greeted the latest from the director of the Oscar-nominated "A Prophet" and the acclaimed "Rust and Bone." ''Dheepan" is about a former militant, a woman and a young girl who flee their civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka for France with the passports of a deceased family.
"I didn't want them to have any links to a post-imperial French situation," Audiard told reporters Thursday. "I wanted them to come from a long way away, and Sri Lanka was the other end of the Earth for me."
Posing as a family, the trio settles in a housing project outside Paris, but they soon find that even the other end of the Earth can also rage with violence.
The titular character is played by a non-professional actor, Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, who, like Dheepan, immigrated to France. After serving as a child soldier for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, he fled Sri Lanka for Thailand as a 19-year-old. In 1993, he found political asylum in France.
"I came to France because at the time I was able only to find a fake French passport and not a fake English or British passport," said Jesuthasan. "It's a life full of adventure."
"Dheepan" sensitively depicts the experience of immigrants in France, which Jesuthasan could easily relate to.
"Just as you see in the film, I encountered any number of difficulties when I first arrived in France," said Jesuthasan. "I was even chased by the police when I was in the streets."
The film, among the movies vying for Cannes' top honor, the Palme d'Or, has been acquired by IFC and Sundance Selects for U.S. distribution.