Dheepan, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is especially resonant at a time when anxieties and tensions prevent a static, ageing Europe from harbouring an influx of people so desperately in need of refuge.
In the aftermath of the Sri Lankan Civil War, a Tamil Tiger fighter must collaborate with a woman and child he has never previously met in order to seek political asylum in France, the three of them assuming the identity of an imperilled family. In forging the semblance of a real family, the three come to rely on each other as much as themselves. In their new life with Dheepan as head of the household, the make-believe family must relive past atrocities when their adopted home resembles the war zone they worked to flee.
The film is elegantly and artfully shot by director Jacques Audiard, employing fades into light and dark to inversely reveal or further obscure. The concluding fight sequence, though only showing fragments of the combatants’ bodies engaging, forcefully captures the visceral action in its entirety. In a role where she is often deprived of speech and grappling with a new language, Kalieaswari Srinivasan gives an exceptional performance as “wife” Yalini, conveying more in a single look than any dialogue ever could. The most gut-wrenching moments precipitate when the family’s illusion of stability and security is ruptured.
The film uncovers some of the cultural current of banlieues in the periphery of French society, at odds with the hegemonic ideal of national identity. Similarly, Dheepan touches upon but does not fully flesh out the experience of being a newly arrived immigrant, nor does it adequately convey the discomfort of being the projected “Other” beyond what is relayed within a few lines of dialogue. Though not especially revelatory, viewed without the preconceptions that the prestigious Palme d’Or heralds, Dheepan is still a poignant film that merits watching.
Dheepan is released nationwide on 21st February 2016.
Watch the trailer for Dheepan here: