Dheepan is a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who flees to France and ends up working as a caretaker outside Paris.
Some of France’s greatest cinema has been set in the banlieues, areas of urban development outside the city limits which have often became a hotbed of crime and a place where immigrants settle. The most famous cinematic example is ‘La Haine’, Mathieu Kassovitz’s powerful piece from 1995, and Jacques Audiard follows in his footsteps with last year’s Palme D’or winner ‘Dheepan’. Jacques Audiard is a special filmmaker, capable of producing valuable social commentary wrapped around stories of individuals damaged in one way or another, and ‘Dheepan’ is another strong character study. It follows an assembled family of Sri Lankan refugees who have fled the civil war to try to make a new life for themselves in France, with all three assuming new identities to enable their application for refuge to be accepted.
The lead performance comes from Antonythasan Jesuthasan, who was a former child soldier in the Sri Lankan region and his performance is remarkable for a man with limited acting experience. His ‘Dheepan’ is a deeply conflicted man who wants to look after his adopted family but struggles with the ties to his violent past. The film thrives in the little moments, telling smaller stories about the life of an immigrant that are at times uplifting and at times heartbreaking. Subtle moments such as Dheepan bonding with his daughter over homework or developing a camaraderie with some of the local residents are contrasted with instances of racism and sudden bursts of violence that recall the situation the family have escaped from.
We empathise with these characters but Audiard doesn’t whitewash them and the narrative is clear that these are flawed individuals with negative traits, but the key thing is that they want to work for a better life and they deserve that opportunity. It’s particularly timely given the current political climate and ‘Dheepan’ emphasises the human element of the conflicts going on around the world. The most divisive aspect of the film is likely to be the conclusion which does feel like we’ve moved into an entirely different movie. It’s almost like we’ve segued into ‘Die Hard’ for a second and whilst it’s undoubtedly thrilling and satisfying to watch it isn’t truly in keeping with the grounded approach to this point.
‘Dheepan’ is a powerful, moving and thought provoking film about the immigrant experience and it’s another strong entry into Jacques Audiard’s already impressive resume.
Directed By: Jacques Audiard
Starring: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers, Marc Zinga, Faouzi Bensaidi and Bass Dhem