In a nutshell: Dheepan is a gritty depiction of life as a refugee at the rough outer edge of French society, featuring superb performances from the two leads.
This grim, slow-burning tale centres on three Tamil strangers – Tamil Tiger fighter Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), a woman around his age, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a 12-year-old girl Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) – who flee Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the civil war. Posing as a family, they are granted refugee status in France, but the conditions that await them are squalid and miserable, and not much less dangerous than those they have left behind.
Jammed into cramped, basic living quarters in a bleak apartment block infested with violent gangs conducting drug business, they determine to make the best of their new lives. Dheepan takes a job as the block caretaker, his faux wife accepts a position looking after a local aged resident with dementia, and the young girl attends a nearby school.
The longer they masquerade as a family, the closer they move to becoming one. However, when a gang leader just paroled rolls up and adopts the demented resident’s apartment as his base, Yalini develops an infatuation with him that upsets the delicate equilibrium of her “family”. As rival gangs begin to circle and a showdown looms, Dheepan is drawn inextricably into the midst of the trouble. Revisited by the traumas he encountered as a soldier, he is forced back into military mode as the drama approaches a fearsome climax.
As with director Jacques Audiard’s earlier film, The Prophet, there is a gritty and most convincing realism about Dheepan, and the sense throughout of a ticking time bomb that could detonate at any time. The lead-up to the inevitable explosion takes longer here, but the film is no less gripping for that, largely due to the compelling performances of the two leads. It is noteworthy, but not so surprising, to learn that Antonythasan Jesuthasan actually fought as a Tamil Tiger during the Sri Lankan war (see article here).
Dheepan is a timely release in this period of forced mass migration to Europe, and a stark reminder that the reality of asylum, while preferable to that of a war zone, can nevertheless be pretty bloody grim. Unfortunately, the narrative takes a wrong turn for Disneyland-on-Thames at the end. That will make sense if you see the flick; I’m not going to elaborate. Suffice to say, it is bewildering that a director known for his uncompromising, tough-minded realism could trip up like this in the final frames of an otherwise excellent film.
It’s a shocker of a misstep to end on, but the only significant flaw in the movie, so factor that into your decision as to whether to go along.
Movie Website: http://en.unifrance.org/movie/38791/dheepan
2015-16 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 25-31 Jan, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 2-7 Feb, 8pm
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives