As a Palme d’Or winner, the explosive movie Dheepan is a fascinating insight into the mind of an illegal immigrant and the refugee’s dream of an idyllic ending to wipe out his horrendous and bloody original circumstances. Opening with a funeral pyre of slaughtered bodies, on the island of Sri Lanka, it’s a mixture of brutal social realism and nail-biting suspense, with almost hallucinatory sequences prompted by the pressures and post-traumatic stress of war and is directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).
Dheepan, the battle-weary Sri Lankan rebel fighter steals a dead man’s identity for himself and hooks up with a previously unknown to him ‘wife’ and ‘daughter’ to get into Europe. They eventually get settled into an isolated and vandalised banlieue on the outskirts of Paris, where the majority of the film takes place. With subtitles to tease out the dialogue, it is curiously moving, as it plays out the attempts of the manufactured family to integrate into school and civilian life, in the middle of the brutal districts that have spawned the alienated and radicalised youth, that is such a threat to our society currently. Language and cultural differences abound, but they struggle to adapt and conform in a landscape that is like a nightmare vision of our own troubled past on speed.
The film’s grit and boldness won it the top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and Antonythasan Jesuthasan, himself a former Tamil Tiger child soldier-turned-acclaimed-novelist, gives a breakout lead performance as the multi-faceted Dheepan. He turns from fierce freedom fighter to subservient caretaker in the sink estate run by gangsters and drug barons violently defending their territory, whilst some of the tenants of the suburb attempt to lead their everyday lives in the midst of bloodstained chaos masterminded by the drug barons. The last scene lets the rest down, but is it just a dream? Judge for yourself, the rest is worth it.
by Liz Kennedy
Dheepan (Certificate 15) is 1hour 55 minutes in duration. It is on limited release and screens at QFT from Fri 22 April to Thurs 5 May