Three Sri Lankan refugees flee civil war only to face another in the gang-ridden outskirts of Paris, in Jacques Audiard’s 2015 Palme D’Or winner.
Though the French capital may appear more hospitable than a country that faced 26 years of conflict, Dheepan’s titular protagonist is far from cosy in his new abode. Language barriers, poor housing, and racist abuse all await real-name Sivadhasan and his fake family as they attempt to adjust to life as immigrants. The character-driven nature of this crime drama is gripping, grounding the film with nuanced, often uncomfortably real performances (main star Antonythasan Jesuthasan is an actual former child soldier). Despite its title, fellow escapees Yalini and nine-year-old Illayaal are given equal amounts of focus; each shown as compelling, flawed strangers trying to understand a place all too similar to home. Even their gun-wielding neighbours get some character development, with Vincent Rottiers’ bailed gang leader in particular adding to the film’s moral ambiguity.
“amongst the chaos, the film never loses focus, the family’s small apartment becoming a beacon of uneasy optimism”
Tensions rise as gang-war begins, and it’s here in the film’s third act that it becomes more than an outsider sob story. Director/writer Audiard (famed for the equally emotional Rust and Bone and A Prophet) knows when to let the camera linger, showcasing some stunning dreamlike cinematography of the grimy Parisian estate torn apart by violence; almost intentionally exaggerating the plight of modern day refugees. It’s sometimes too hyperbolic, but it works to heart-wrenching effect as we see Dheepan slowly succumb to his PTSD.
Yet amongst the chaos, the film never loses focus, the family’s small apartment becoming a beacon of uneasy optimism. Deserving its Cannes praise, it offers an artistic take on a true crisis. With the EU referendum lingering, it’s only appropriate for the film to cross the Channel to our screens.
Poignant, brutal, and human, Dheepan is a stunning cinematic statement in today’s xenophobic climate.
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