fri 19/07/2024

Dheepan | reviews, news & interviews



Jacques Audiard's unflinching study of the migrant experience

Dheepan: a rare film about the story of immigration

Migration is the lead story of modern geopolitics. So it’s surprising – even baffling – that so few films tell the migrant’s tale. British and French films across the broadest spectrum have dramatised the quest of colonial incomers to assimilate – from Bend It Like Beckham all the way across to La Haine – but Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan goes right back to the source.

It opens in the northern region of Sri Lanka where the Tamil Tigers have been defeated and refugees are clamouring to leave. The narrative alights on three of them as they make their way to Paris. The twist is that the man, woman and nine-year-old child are not a family: each is a bereaved casualty of civil war travelling on a fake identity. As well as learning to navigate the maze of their new life, they also have to assimilate with one another. And the troublespot on the outskirts of Paris where they fetch up – a lawless estate of apartment blocks ruled by drug-runners – is a hard finishing school.

The film takes its name from the assumed identity of its male protagonist. Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) was someone else before, a soldier with another family. In Paris he becomes a street hawker turned caretaker who instinctively believes that the battle back home is in the past and even turns down the invitation from a compatriot to join a Tamil cell in Paris. But fitting into his new surroundings is no easier. He laughs along at jokes he doesn’t understand, only to be told, in one of the film’s rare moments of lightness, that the problem is not cultural but personal: he has no sense of humour. Not that there’s much to laugh at in his new home which gradually awakens buried memories of the conflict from which he has sought refuge.DheepanMeanwhile, his so-called wife Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) takes a job in the block opposite as a cook and carer for an elderly Algerian, but a stronger bond is formed with a young druglord (Vincent Rottiers, pictured above with Srinivasan) who has just been released from prison. Talking to him seems simpler than forming a bond with Illayal (Claudine Vinasithamby), the girl she grabbed back in the refugee camp in order to increase her chances of gaining asylum. “You could at least try to be nice to me,” says Illayal, who is relegated to the special needs class at school for standing up for herself in the classroom.

Unshowily acted and unflashily shot in the style of reportage, the bulk of Dheepan is a reflective if unflinching portrait of the immigrant experience which challenges an international audience to take a kindly view of individuals caught in the turbulent spin cycle of history. Anyone wondering if it’s going anywhere as a drama is amply compensated by a climactic Scorsesian purge which, while cinematically satisfying, offers no workable long-term solution to France’s problems in les banlieues. You can take a refugee out of the war zone; not so easy to take the war zone out of the refugee.

The reality is that in this powerful and important film Audiard and his co-writers, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré, are preaching to the choir. Marine Le Pen’s supporters probably didn’t queue for tickets in France, while Ukippers and other Brexitters won’t rush to see it either, which doubles the irony of the shining optimism in the film’s redemptive coda. 

Anyone wondering if it’s going anywhere as a drama is amply compensated by a Scorsesian climax


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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