By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review comes courtesy of French filmmaker Jacques Audiard and his usual production gang. The team behind A Prophet from 2009 and Rust And Bone from 2012 have returned with their 2015 effort called Dheepan.
Audiard has been making headlines, critically, since the early noughties with awards and nominations galore. Jacques latest film is another award-winner from his impressive canon.
Dheepan is currently showing at the Phoenix cinema in Leicester and that is the place I managed to catch it too…
Dheepan is about three central protagonists named Yalini, Illayaal and the title character Dheepan. The film begins with Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) searching for a young child to aid her in leaving the country of Sri Lanka. She comes across Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), and brings her to a man she's just met, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), where they're given new passports to flee.
The trio are all Tamils, an ethnic minority in the country who fought for an independent nation. Dheepan, the character, used to be a top militant fighter so the narrative is mainly focusing on him and his traumatic past.
Audiard seems to have regressed slightly in his approach to Dheepan, not in a bad way, but in terms of budget and his political stance. Dheepan is helmed by mostly unknown actors that have barely been on the big screen before. Srinivasan has only ever done theatre before and Jesuthasan, who plays the title role, was in fact a former Tamil Tiger soldier at the age of 16 before leaving Sri Lanka at 19 years of age. He now works as a playwright, poet and activist in Paris. So, Anthonythasan Jesuthasan gives Audiard the raw authenticity that Dheepan needs and it certainly conveys on screen.
You follow the trio for the entirety as you watch them grow as a ‘fake’ family but it’s not until the last half an hour that you see Dheepan take darker and deeper turn. After Yalini gets a job as the carer and cook to a disabled uncle of the local ganglord Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), the plot starts to unravel pretty quick and the momentum begins to pick up. This is where the classic Audiard comes in.
A few critics have stated that the climaxing scenes ruin this film but I think it actually pulls it altogether. Dheepan has exchanged one war for another as we see him climb the stairs with a camera shot of just the backs of legs – the mid shot heightens the scene with immense intensity. I think this is the only way the director could end the film. We are led up this path from the very beginning so the audience can’t expect anything else.
From the moment the film begins, we spend very little time in Sri Lanka but the characters’ are always longing for a ‘homely place’. Whether it be a safe and war-free location or Yalini’s cousin’s house in London.
Even though we know exactly how this film will turn out with the ex-militant fighter turning up at a gang-ran block of flats, Jacques still manages to deliver an impressive script. The narrative is certainly improved with an added dimension of the relationships between the three protagonists. All three stars nail their roles and are extremely impressive.
Dheepan is another foreign film that delivers once again at the Phoenix. With Disorder, Victoria and now Dheepan all featuring at the cinema in the past couple of weeks, it must be something to do with one-word titles. Dheepan is certainly worth a watch.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
Dheepan is currently showing at the Phoenix cinema in Leicester – certificate 15