30 January 2021

Jacques Audiard's Dheepan (2015)


Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) is a Tamil Tiger forced to flee Sri Lanka. With two strangers, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and the nine-year-old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), they pose as a family in order to escape to France, to end up in a grim HLM where the fake husband and wife become caretakers in their block. Much of the dialogue is in Tamil and the film charts the 'family's' progress in their new language.

Not only does their knowledge of the French language develop, but slowly a real family will immerge based on love and loyalty. The problem is that the gang rivalry, based around drugs, will become increasingly violent and this cité in Paris, full of ex-convicts, drug addicts, etc, and will turn into a war zone which resembles the country they've left, and Yalini yearns to leave for London, where she has a relative.

Dheepan will have to use his fighterly skills to quell the escalating violence, and this is where a story of learning to live in a completely different society and adapting to its standards swings very quickly into a blood-soaked thriller. To top it off, presumably the concluding scene of Dheepan, Yalini, Illayaal and the couple's young child living in a kind of utopia in England is just another of Dheepan's dreams?

Coming after the developments in Europe over the past five years that the film was made, it comes across as a very poor joke today. And this is such a pity, because what up to its mid-point seemed to be an extremely promising movie – especially with Antonythasan Jesuthasan's superlative acting – just disintegrated into nothingness. Palme d'Or 2015? Was there really nothing better to choose from?

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