Reviews - Dheepan
Reviewed By Ian Payne
Dheepan is a former Tamil Tiger who flees war-torn Sri Lanka in the company of his wife and daughter. Except that they are not a family – 3 false passports are available and Dheepan needs to find a wife and daughter that match those passports. Dheepan's 'wife' Yalini scours the refugee camp for a girl of the right age and Illayal, orphaned by the war, is plucked from the camp and set down with her new parents in one of Paris' banlieus – suburbs that could almost rival their home country for violence and tension between opposing forces, only these are motivated by crime rather than politics. Rival gangs control different parts of the estate, informal militias that police everyday life.
Who knows what Dheepan has seen and done during that bloody civil war? His pragmatism and knowledge of when to keep his head down enables him to gain a toehold in his new country through his job as a caretaker in one of the run down blocks of flats. Yalini and Illayal's problems in coming to terms with the new culture and language are poignantly illustrated and superbly played by non-professional, first time actresses.
Week by week, month by month Dheepan's family do begin to assimilate. They start to pick up the language, their hard work brings material rewards and Illayal flourishes at school – an opportunity denied to her at home. The three strangers slowly start to come together as a family unit, although Yalini is never really comfortable in that Parisian suburb.
The family's fragile upward trajectory coincides with an escalation of violence between the two factions. Director Jacques Audiard expertly built up the tension. The silence in the Alhambra was palpable, making the sound of gunfire even more shocking. Yalini is in danger on the wrong side of the divide and Dheepan's warrior instincts come to the fore. Audiard handles the violent ending cleverly, avoiding the graphic scenes that lesser directors may have revelled in yet losing nothing of the threat.
By this time, the audience is so engaged with the plight of the family that they desperately want all to end well but the portents are not good, there is no obvious way out. Should the film have ended as Dheepan reaches Yalini, leaving us still wondering and hoping? Audiard opts for a more saccharine approach with a new life for the family in England – perhaps implausible and the only false step in a fine film, rightfully awarded the Palme d'Or at Cannes.
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