Director: Jacques Audiard
109mins Drama France
Jacques Audiard’s searing social realism has won him much acclaim with hits such as ‘A Prophet‘ and ‘Rust and Bone,’ With DHEEPAN he delivers another gripping drama about an immigrant family who bring their religious convictions and fierce loyalties to one another into the grim context of a strife-ridden community of outsiders who have recently arrived in Paris.
Shock and austerity greet them in a place thousands of miles from the soft jungles of Sri Lanka where the Tamil Tigers have taught them how to fight tooth and nail for their beliefs. But the struggle in their new home requires a more subtle form of combat. Suffused with images of Hindu God Ganesh and sacred Indian elephants, who protect them during their sleeping hours, during the day a sombre scenario of inter-racial strife and conflict is ever present in their frightening reality.
After a brief opening scene that shows the central character of the title (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) burning corpses after another incursion in his Sri Lankan home, Dheepan and a young woman (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), arrive with an an orphaned child, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby). They manage to procure the passports of three dead people, along with some info on how to pass through the immigration authoriities. An interpreter reinvents their unconvincing story so that Dheepan and Yalini can gain employment as caretakers in a block of council houses. There they meet Youssouf (Marc Zinga) who shows them ropes of how to get by in this new environment, but their language skills are non-existent. Working as cleaners for another immigrant who is crippled and mostly bedridden, they settle it gradually. Illayaal is allotted a place in a a special needs class at school, along with other immigrant children still learning French, but young kids always manage to cope better than the adults.
Using a cast of newcomers, Audiard paints his humanistic study of social realism with a colourful palette of vibrant colours redolent of Dheepan’s exotic spice island home. With the support of regular co-writer Thomas Bidegain, and cinematographer Eponime Menonceau, he also injects a vibe of simmering social unrest to this outwardly cohesive picture of a dislocated community. Despite their surface cooperation and acceptance of the situation, trouble is clearly brewing and the mesmerising finale unspools in a way that we could never have anticipated.
Once again, Audiard handles his subject-matter with the dexterity of a seasoned filmmaker evoking his central character as a man of pure instinct, trained as a soldier and operating from a professional point view, while also being an insecure and, clearly, disorientated human being away from home. Antonythasan Jesuthasan brings a freshness and authenticity to his debut role. Worth noting is the fact that he is also a writer and activist who has been personally been involved with the Tamil Tigers. There’s nothing particular new or noteworthy about Audiard’s DHEEPAN; it’s a consistent, well-made and watchable outing but why it won this year’s Palme D’Or remains a mystery. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 8 APRIL 2016