Dheepan is a French crime drama written and directed by Jacques Audiard of A Prophet and Rust and Bone fame. The film was awarded the Palme D'or at last year's Cannes film festival, it's finally released in UK cinemas this weekend and you can find a screening near you here.
The film tells the story of three Tamil refugees who flee civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka to Paris posing as a deceased family. Once there the realities of the refugee experience, along with their crime and poverty stricken environment, test this already-fragile familial unit.
The way Dheepan approaches the issues surrounding refugees and immigrants in general is brilliant – their struggles, whether big or small, always feel real and lived in. We watch characters sell nic-nacs on Parisian streets only to be hounded by police officers and make next to nothing for their efforts, school children be ostracised from their classmates for being foreign and young women be forced to play-up their cultural difference and exoticised by the men around them. Thanks to a smart, sensitive script there are no good or bad guys – just hurt and confused ones.
The writing would, of course, be nothing without the right actors to bring life to its words and the main cast of three – all of which newcomers – are fantastic. Jesuthasan Antonythasan (who was an actual child soldier with the Tamil Tigers before fleeing Sri Lanka for France and is now an author and activist) and Kalieaswari Srinivasan brilliantly play the two 'parents' with deep complexity and Claudine Vinasithamby does a nice job of giving her character real grit and determination in the face of her disorientating and lonely new life.
It's a very sensitive and thoughtful film but one that keeps a good pace all the same as it barely drags an inch. It also looks great. There are several POV shots which perfectly capture each member of the family's perspective and sense of the world so well that you feel as though you're actually in their shoes. There's also a lot of beautiful imagery here ranging from majestic elephants roaming the forests of Sri Lanka to incredible plumbs of smoke rapidly rising up the side of a banlieue tower block. French electronic artist Nicolas Jaar provides his first, and hopefully not last, soundtrack which reaches tall emotional heights and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.
It was in fact all was going swimmingly for Dheepan until the third act arrives and it made a huge, regretful tonal shift.
First of all when Dheepan's old Tamil Tigers colonel moves into his estate I felt a real sense of threat and anguish but he then all-but disappears from the film. This seemed severely illogical on a narrative level and a real missed opportunity. Later on Dheepan goes full-on Rambo at the locals which in some ways makes sense given his past but felt tonally out of place and like it came out of a different movie entirely.
The icing on the cake? The end is like something out of a fairytale as we glimpse the family having somehow escaped the estate unscathed by both gangsters and authorities and living an idyllic life in a posh-looking UK suburb with, wait for it, a newborn baby all of their own. This was yet another left-turn for the film which felt totally at odds with the rest of the film and was just plain cheesy.
Dheepan is an odd film as in the first two thirds you have a brilliant observation of refugee life but the third veers wildly, disappointingly off course. However I'm still gonna give it a 7/10 and would recommend it to fans of films like Last Resort, Lost Boys of Sudan, In America and El Norte.
Have you seen Dheepan and if so what did you think of it? As always, let me know in the comments below and make sure to subscribe for more reviews coming soon!