2016, R, 115 min. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Starring Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 24, 2016
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Dheepan is a sympathetic yet gimlet-eyed story about the immigrant experience in France. Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone), the film evidences the filmmaker’s realist tendencies and brash storytelling skills, although Dheepan’s interpersonal and cultural observations are overtaken in the third act by more pulpy violence.
The movie opens as three unrelated Sri Lankan refugees from civil war assume the identities of three dead escapees, and thereafter adopt the appearance of a father, mother, and daughter in order to flee the chaos and cross international borders. This readymade family is sent to one of the housing projects in the banlieues, or suburbs, that is overrun with gang violence. While living together in a cramped apartment, each of them tries to fit into the role they’ve been assigned. Dheepan (Antonythasan), the “father and husband,” becomes a building caretaker, and cleans up after much of the gang mess. His “wife” Yalini (Srinivasan) provides personal care for a bedridden resident whose apartment is also a squat for the hoodlums. Young Illayaal (Vinasithamby) attends school and develops typical adolescent tensions with her pretend mother.
Until things devolve into a stormy conclusion, Dheepan is a sharply observed drama about identity and separation, strangeness and commonalities, and making do while hoping for something better. Each of these refugees eventually has a heartbreaking revelation that one catastrophe has been traded in for another. The nonprofessional actors deliver stirring performances and Audiard never sentimentalizes the characters’ situation. And despite the film’s misguided climax, Audiard again demonstrates that he is one of the top filmmakers working today.