DHEEPAN (France/15A/109mins)
Directed by Jacques Audiard. Starring Vincent Rottiers, Marc Zinga, Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Franck Falise, Claudine Vinasithamby
THE PLOT: Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) moves from war-torn Sri Lanka to France with Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and Illayaal (Claudine Winasuthamby). To all intents and purposes, they are a family trying to escape the horrors of their home country, but the three are travelling on the passports of the dead; this secret unites them, and also almost becomes their undoing.
THE VERDICT: DHEEPAN is the first film by director Jacques Audiard since 2012’s RUST AND BONE, which also premiered at Cannes. Dheepan tells the story of an immigrant family, held together by a secret. The film opens with Yalini running around a slum town desperately searching for a child; it seems that she and Dheepan need a child to travel with for their story to work, but far from kidnapping the 9 year old girl they end up with, she is an orphan whose aunt seems to willingly hand her over.
Kalieaswari Srinivasan, as Yalini is, in many ways, the heart of the story. She plays the character well, making her gruff and ruthless, but eventually gentle and kind. Jesuthasan Antonythasan holds the family unit together as Sheepan. It is clear this man has a secret or two of his own, but he seems to be the most compassionate toward his adopted daughter. Antonythasan also makes sure that Dheepan has a dark and dangerous side, which he uses to keep the family in check. Claudine Winasuthamby plays Illayaal as quiet and respectful, utterly bewildered by the new world she finds herself in, but not afraid to speak her mind. The rest of the cast is made up of Vincent Rottiers, Marc Zinga and Franck Falise.
Much like RUST AND BONE, Audiard makes Dheepan a story of trust and adjustment as this family get to know one another. Transplanted to Le Pré, Dheepan works as a caretaker in a complex home to violent gangs, although he keeps his head down and they accept his presence. Yalini finds herself getting deeper into the world of the gangs as she cares for an elderly man, and Illayaal struggles with the transition to school, and making friends. The story is slow moving, but emotionally engaging for much of the film, but everything comes together once war breaks out between rival gang members. This allows the audience to see the true colours of the characters we have been watching, and the decisions they make in order to survive.
As director, Audiard makes DHEEPAN a family drama set against the backdrop of secrets, lies and an encroaching sense of danger. Although much of the film is slow moving, the human story being told is engaging enough to keep the audience rooting for this newly formed family. The final act of the film is an utter change in pace, and is jarring at first, but the emotional groundwork has been laid carefully enough for the audience to accept this sudden change in circumstance and energy.
In all, DHEEPAN is the story of a family coming together and falling apart. The performances are strong and engaging, and although the final act is a sudden change in tempo, we learn enough about the characters in the first two acts for this to be accepted.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Dheepan
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Powerful but flawed
  • filmbuff2011

    Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Dheepan is another typically bruising but powerful study of masculinity and latent violence from Jacques Audiard, acclaimed director of A Prophet and Rust And Bone.

    In war-torn Sri Lanka, Tamil warrior Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) has lost his wife and two children to the conflict. He is bent, but not broken. In order to get out of the country, he needs to pose as a family man. This is when he comes upon Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), a woman who is also desperate to get out. She takes the 9-year-old orphaned Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) under her wing to pose as her daughter. Together the three of them have a chance of a new life in France if they can live together and behave as if they’re a family. Dheepan takes up a job as a caretaker in a building complex in a troubled housing estate. Rivalries between gangs of youths in each apartment block cause tension, something which Yalini sees for herself when she works cooking and cleaning for Brahim (Vincent Rottiers). As tensions spill over, Dheepan takes a stand. However, he finds himself in another, smaller warzone with violence just around the corner…

    With a screenplay written by Audiard, along with Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre, Dheepan is a powerfully affecting story of a family’s struggle for survival in a country they’re unfamiliar with. The emphasis being on the word ‘family’, since they’re not actually a family. They are pretty much strangers to each other for a good part of the film. Dheepan has to get used to being a father again, Yalini has no experience of looking after children and Illayaal looks for protection and guidance from two strangers. It’s the developing bond between the three that is at the heart of the film. The audience gets to know these characters as much as the characters are getting to know each other over the course of the film. That gives the story more immediacy and a sense of geographical dislocation. You feel for these characters and their predicament.

    The immigrant experience is not something you often see from European directors. In a time of turmoil surrounding the refugee crisis across Europe, there’s never any sense of cloying sentimentality here. People will do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means defending themselves in the face of suburban gang violence – another recent problem in France. Audiard has assembled an excellent cast. In a case of art imitating life, Antonythasan was himself a warrior who fled Sri Lanka for France. Remarkably, this was his first lead role (he’s otherwise known as a writer and activist). So committed is her performance that he literally burns off the screen with his grim but determined stare. Srinivasan and Vinasithamby had never acted before, but they provide strong support throughout. As the film draws to its conclusion, there’s a chance of hope for these ultimately decent characters. That final scene is so vivid that it feels earned. Strong, powerful filmmaking from a master director at the top of his game. ****