Three Sri Lankan refugees pretend to be a family as they try to make better lives for themselves in a Parisian housing project.
Showcase audiences are in for a treat with Jacques Audiard’s latest film, Dheepan. The acclaimed French director of Rust and Bone and A Prophet, Audiard returns with a new film which he once again paints on a huge cinematic canvas while effortlessly dealing with the social realism of his characters. Credible, heart-wrenching and totally gripping, Dheepan won the 2015 Cannes Palme d’Or and deservedly so.
Set in 2009, the film tells the story of a family from Sri Lanka fleeing their war-torn country and arriving in France, only to be billeted in a dilapidated Parisian estate where a drug war is about to erupt, consequently swapping one war zone for another. This ‘family’ is in fact three strangers masquerading as a family; the ‘mother’ Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) enlists a nine-year-old girl Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) to pretend to be her daughter, and an ex-Tamil Tiger militant, Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) as her husband. Such is the degradation they find themselves in that shortly after arriving in the French capital, Dheepan says, “I can’t stand this.”
It is testament to the skill of Audiard as director and his fellow co-writers Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré that amid the violence and spiraling chaos lays a simple tale of stoic optimism.
The three central performances are stunning. Antonythasan, a former Tiger himself turned novelist, is note perfect as the taciturn Dheepan now working as a caretaker. While Srinivasan, trying to find a maternal instinct, and young Vinasithamby are terrific.
For fans of Audiard his distinctive touch on Dheepan is further highlighted by the wonderfully natural urban squalor and decay captured beautifully by cinematographer Éponine Momenceau, in what is astonishingly his feature film debut.
Audiard has said that it was initially his intention to make a film drawing influence from Sam Peckinpah’s, Straw Dogs, “I had this idea of immigrants arriving on an estate, being taken hostage and so on. Then I watched the Peckinpah again, and… well, I couldn’t quite see why I’d had the idea in the first place. But I had this idea of people coming to France who had no connection with the old colonial empire, so had no reference points in terms of language or culture.”
Dheepan is an absorbing tale from a master filmmaker where during many scenes, particularly the spectacular ending, you forget to breathe!
Dheepan is at select Showcase Cinemas on 26 and 31 May as part of the Showcase Spotlight season.