Movie Review: DHEEPAN (France 2015) ***

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dheepan.jpgDHEEPAN (France 2015) ***

Directed by Jacques Audiard

Starring: Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby

Review by Gilbert Seah

Audiard’s (UN PROPHET, RUST AND BONE) latest work, direct from Cannes and a Palme d’Or Winner, is likely the first and only French film shot largely in Tamil. In this one, as in other Audiard’s films, features a desperate protagonist trying to adapt, often successfully in a new environment after much duress and determination.

DHEEPAN is the name of the protagonist, an ex-Tamil Tiger from Sri Lanka (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) who with a woman, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and child (Claudine Vinasithamby) use false passports and pretend to be a family so that they can immigrate and stay in France where fraternite, legalite and egalite apparently rule. Obviously this is not the case. The three find it just as hard to assimilate, less survive in their new surroundings. They have to learn a new language a well.

The housing project they are assigned to is a front for drug trafficking. Dheepan is given the job as caretaker while his ‘wife’ a job of caregiver for a Mr. Habib (Faouzi Bensaïdi).

Dheepan works as the caretaker for ‘Block B’ and the woman as a caregiver for an old Frenchman while the girl attends school. Like Audiard’s best work UN PROPHET, he shows that prison need not occur behind closed walls.

The film contains other interesting characters besides Dheepan and his family. One is the mysterious Mr. Habib, the elder gent that the wife is hired to cook and look after The other is the Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) who develops sympathy for the wife, Yalini. Unfortunately, Brahim is done away with soon after in the film.

The film’s best segment is the one where the couple have a private talk. Dheepan confesses that he had understood an entire French conversation but finds nothing funny in the joke. The ‘wife’ tells him it is not the joke but that it is Dheepan who has no sense of humour, even in Tamil.

Lead actor Jesuthasan is himself a former child soldier with the rebel group Tamil Tigers (now an accomplished author who have written books Gorilla and Traitor) but his lack of training in acting shows. He is ill equipped to handle the dramatic scenes and ends up pouting or brooding most of the time.

Srinivasan who plays the wife fares better, eliciting both humour and sympathy in her role. But a bigger part in the film should have been written for Rottiers, who is the best actor in the film.

The film’s message appears to be that family is what one makes of it – not what is dished out in terms of blood relatives. Also, home is also what one makes of it. These come out loud and clear through the plot.

The last 15 minutes of the film goes against the grain and mood of what Audiard established so well during the rest of the film. The film opts for a cop-out happy ending after a ridiculous action film-styled shootout in which Dheepan utilizes his ex-Tamil Tigers fighting skills.


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