A film of incredible power and emotion, Dheepan is director Jacques Audiard’s stunning take on the plight of three Sri Lankan refugees, forced to flee their country’s civil war and impersonate a family unit in order to ensure their survival. Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) secures his own deportation to France, together with fellow refugees Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and 9-year-old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby). Upon their arrival, the trio are forced to wrestle with the pressures of keeping their true identities hidden. The film also details their struggle for a peaceful existence in an extremely dangerous neighbourhood engulfed by criminal activity and the sort of gang warfare they had been hoping not to encounter.
This is a film which is driven by incredibly strong character performances, in particular Kalieaswari Srinivasan; her portrayal of Yalini as a woman doing everything in her power to survive the dire circumstances in which she finds herself is utterly convincing. She brings a flexibility to the role which, at times, sees her cut an intimidated figure in the company of the borderline-crazy criminal Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) and latterly, exhibit ferocity in the face of unfair expectations she encounters through her fellow refugee, Dheepan.
Dheepan is also a film which does an excellent job of balancing several complex thematic elements. The relatively simple narrative gives the film a solid platform to build on which, in turn, is complimented by scenes which are tastefully contrasted with each other. This allows the film to progress at a steady pace and with fluidity, maintaining the audiences’ interest in the events which follow. For example, some of the quieter scenes which focus on the family’s adjustment to their new way of life fit comfortably alongside scenes which demonstrate the ever-present threat of the gangs occupying the surrounding flat blocks. These smooth transitions certainly allow the film to remain focused on the actions of its main characters, one of its many strengths. It is admirable that Jacques Audiard makes it easy for the audience to build a relationship with these characters, yet never at the expense of his explosive action-packed sequences, which co-exist harmoniously amongst the dramatic storytelling threads.
The music provided by Nicolas Jaar is equally valuable in adding depth to moments of dramatic tension and conflict, allowing the viewer to become immersed in Dheepan’s frustrations, particularly in the explosive finale. Audiard’s timely use of slow motion in these final scenes is also incredibly effective in allowing the audience to share in the raw emotion exhibited in these scenes, in particular Dheepan’s pain and desperation.
The modern relevance of such a film cannot go unnoticed either. At the heart of Dheepan is a story of refugees attempting to integrate themselves within a French community and the difficulties that they encounter whilst doing so. Yet Audaird pitches this part of the story just right, avoiding any sort of clichéd, overly-sympathetic telling of events and instead allowing the story to remain the focal point of the film, ensuring that the film can be judged on its merits in purely cinematic terms.
Despite flaws in both of Dheepan’s starring protagonists, the overriding message we are left with is one of humanity striving to succeed in the face of tremendous odds. The emotive performances given by both Antonythasan and Srinivasan ensure that you continue to root for the pairing in spite of the dangerous paths which fate appears to be leading them down. They illicit a great deal of empathy for the harrowing ordeal that they endure and the stoic manner with which they face their bleak circumstances.
A film which certainly merits a second viewing, Dheepan is worth every bit of its Palme D’Or prize, beautifully combining emotional nuances with an action-packed ending that deserves to be savoured by audiences.