Dheepan

 

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Jacques Audiard’s seventh feature focuses on a Tamil Tiger attempting to build a new life 

in Paris.

 
Dheepan

Displaced in Paris: Claudine Vinasithamby and Antonythasan Jesuthasan

 

With films like The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet and Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard has established himself as arguably France’s leading contemporary filmmaker. His seventh feature, Dheepan, finally won him the Palme d’Or (at the 2015 Cannes festival) and the subject matter of a Tamil asylum seeker in Paris is as topical as ever. Opening at a refugee camp in Sri Lanka, the film immediately asserts its credentials. This is real life, with no Hollywood tricks to manipulate our allegiance, with just the image of a poor woman going from tent to tent looking for a child. It transpires that she, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), wants to adopt a girl on the spot so as to fit the profile of her fabricated papers, enabling her a legitimate passage to Europe. She speaks English and hopes to get to London, but when she hooks up with Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), she’s happy to pose as his husband and follow him to France. He takes on the identity of the deceased Dheepan, a bona fide political refugee with a permit to move to Paris. Together, they then adopt the nine-year-old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), who speaks better French than either of them. Once in Paris, ‘Dheepan’ secures a job as caretaker on a sink estate and, tenuously, he, Yalini and Illayaal attempt to build a family unit in a world far from what they have ever known…

 

As usual, Jacques Audiard pulls no punches, allowing the naturalism of his scenario to suck the viewer into a realistic environment in which integration and communication is a constant battle. Dheepan, though, proves to be an accomplished janitor and takes on the mantle of caretaker to both his new ‘wife’ and ‘child.’ However, the transgressions of his past gradually begin to resurface – he was a Tamil Tiger – while Yalini’s longing to join her cousin in London grates with his long-term plan. In addition, the language barrier and the endemic prejudice of the locals starts to undermine what at first looked like a dream come true…

 

Audiard has a knack for bringing a documentary-like realism to his films but is not against using cinema as an artistic tool, either. The visual motif of an elephant emerging from the undergrowth serves as both a potent reminder of the past that Dheepan has left behind and of the imminent dangers that await him. It goes without saying that the performances are pitch-perfect, without a hint of ‘acting’ to be detected. But whereas Audiard has been blessed with strong stories in the past, the narrative of Dheepan is a little slack. As a director, he is a better painter than a storyteller, and some might be disappointed by the longueurs that permeate his new film. And the finale, recalling the excesses of a certain 1970s’ Martin Scorsese classic, does not sit well with the rest of the film. An entirely more satisfactory drama about illegal immigration in Paris remains Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's engaging and touching Samba of 2014.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers.

 

Dir Jacques Audiard, Pro Pascal Caucheteux, Screenplay Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré, Ph Eponine Momenceau, Pro Des Michel Barthélémy, Ed Juliette Welfling, Music Nicolas Jaar, Costumes Chattoune.

 

Canal+/Ciné+/France 2 Cinéma/France Télévisions/Page 114/Why Not Productions-StudioCanal. 

114 mins. France. 2015. Rel: 8 April 2016. Cert. 15.