Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: April 8th
Based on Montesquieu’s ‘Persian Letters’, a loose novel of correspondences written by two Persian nobles as they experience Europe, Dheepan is a dark and paranoid contemporary tale of migration, Oreintalism and the concept of a lasting peace. Directed by Jacques Audiard, and having won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, the film looks at the final days of the Sri Lankan Civil War, as the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are defeated by the national army in 2009, after twenty six years of armed conflict.
Told from the perspective of three survivors, it asks us to consider what actions these people took, or will take to stay alive. Challenging the perceptions of audiences, whose experience with violence is slim, we are asked to consider whether the choices they make are immoral, or did this brutal epoch force them to become amoral in order to adapt and carry on breathing.
Beginning with the story of one separatist solider, Sivadhasan, played by Antonythasan, a former Tamil Tigers child soldier, we are introduced to this man as he helps his comrades to cremate fallen insurgents at the end of the prolonged struggle. At a point of ideological disillusionment, he decides to migrate to France, assuming the identity of a dead man, called Dheepan in order to gain employment. Yet, because Dheepan had a wife and daughter, he too must find people to help recreate this vanished family.
This news motivates a woman in her twenties, called Yalini to forward herself as a suitable candidate, but unfortunately she does not have a daughter. So, in an act of desperation, she scours refugee camps, tracking down children whose parents have died until she finds Illayaal, whom she abducts to tick the final box and hence, escape.
Once they board a rickety boat and commence the lengthy journey to Europe, each agrees to hide of their former selves, and fabricate the appearance of a normal family. Sivadhasan takes up work as a street vendor, selling cheap flashy trinkets to tourists, a shadow of himself as he adopts a cheery, naive manner. However, his past paranoia remains bubbling under the surface until he decides it necessary for the family to relocate to an area, which is out of view from the French authorities.
Switching over to janitorial duty in a decrepit series of flats overrun by criminal gangs, this move also offers Yalini the chance to work as a cleaner, although the post is in the apartment of the complex’s chief drug kingpin. This turn of events does not strike them as threatening initially, their main issues being the casual racism of their neighbours. However, as Sivadhasan genuinely make the effort to settle down, committing fully to his role of fake husband, tensions mount as this desire frustrates Yalini, while outside an imminent gang feud starts to feed into their domestic disputes.
Determined to live in peace, but not permitted to do so by various forces, slowly, but surely, Sivadhasan is dragged back into his old life, whether this is as a warrior, or freedom fighter, the audience must consider. Acting upon good intentions to insure the safety of those innocent bystanders residing in these ravaged apartment blocks, his behaviour can be described as “intelligent self-defence”, in accords with Malcolm X’s philosophy of a necessary aggression, And so, we must ask whether Dheepan is doing the right thing, by reviving his former self in order to at last live a life of peace.
Concerned with the innate violent nature of humans, and exploring psychological issues such as post-traumatic stress, and the “Us” versus “Them” racial divides between East and West, Dheepan also possesses a dark streak of humour, all of which, when combined make this a film difficult to pigeon hole. Beautiful, both as a visual piece and character study, but equally as terrifying in its volatility, this is an extraordinarily epic tale of identity stowed away under a collection of innocuous interactions, which bit by bit advance the plot towards a dramatic climax of chaotic fury.