Dheepan 27.07.18 [15]

Dheepan is a 2015 French crime drama, written and directed by Jacques Audiard, starring Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby and Vincent Rottiers. Controversial 2015 Palme d’Or winner, Dheepan was also nominated for numerous 2016 César awards and a BAFTA for Best Film not in the English Language in 2017.

Dheepan starts in the chaos of civil war in Sri Lanka, where a man, woman and an orphan child pose as a family (using passports found on dead bodies) to get to France. Sivadhasan (Antonythasan) pretending to be “Dheepan”, Yalini (Srinivasan) and Illayaal (Vinasithamby) are faced with the onerous life-saving task of pretending to be a family.

They find themselves in a different kind of chaos in a housing project in Le Pré-Saint-Gervais – the first hour of the film shows the struggle to just get through the day, never mind deal with ghosts from the past, or the fact that they are not, in fact, a family at all.

Dheepan gets the dauntingly enormous job as the ‘caretaker’ of the housing project, which is overrun with brazen drug dealers. Illayaal is enrolled in school and does amazingly well, all things considered, yet she has to teach Yalini how to be motherly.  The non-relationship between Dheepan and Yalini is clearly portrayed, she longing to escape to a cousin in England yet having to work cleaning the apartment of an invalid man, where she finds herself drawn to a chilling young drug lord (Rottiers).

Dheepan and Yalini resign themselves to the fact that they have to try to get along, both feeling underestimated or ignored simply because they can’t speak French. Dheepan keeps a low profile as the drug wars heat up, but the daily violence he confronts reopens his war wounds, the film revealing that he previously fought with the Tamil Tigers, and he feels forced to reconnect with his warrior’s instincts to protect the people he hopes will become his true family.

Filmed in India, France, Sri Lanka and the UK, the film is beautifully shot and acted, featuring complex characters doing their best in no-win situations, with Antonythasan stating that about 50% of the film mirrors his own experience of being a militant and a refugee.

What keeps Dheepan engaging throughout is the tremendous charisma of the exceptional cast and showing Audiard again drawn to people who maintain resilience in punishing situations. When the focus is on the everyday life of the makeshift family, Dheepan is a compelling and thought-provoking family drama which is truly something to behold.

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