Director: Jacques Audiard
Language: Tamil, French.
Duartion: 1 hour 54 minutes
Logline: A Tamil soldier and two refugees flee civil war in Sri Lanka, but find a whole new set of crisis when they attempt to start a new life in Paris.
As easy as it is for people sitting in car, office or at home to read the flashing headlines on the phones about refugees and civil wars and comment about the atrocities of the situations. The people who are actually part of the crisis, face much worse than we can imagine. To witness war, blood, losing families and friends, leaving the homeland to “settle” where fate takes them.
Where or what is home to them? Mere access to food, clothes and shelter, is that what home is? What about dealing with the nightmares of the ghosts of the past with eyes closed and open. Many such questions (and more) are asked and posed at the audience in Jacques Audiard’s Tamil-French 2015 Palme D’or winner of Cannes film festival Dheepan.
The film starts with Sivadhasan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) a Tamil freedom fighter, Tiger in Sri Lanka, placing dried palm leaves over dead bodies with a grim, helpless face. His struggle to wear pants with an injured leg and burning his uniform with the pyre explains Savadhasan’s state of mind. Sivadhasan, later meets Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and the child Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) at the refugee camp, both names taken from the passports of dead people. Sivadhasan too has a new identity now, Dheepan, from a dead man’s passport. This “family” leaves on a boat to Madras (India) from where they fly to France to start afresh as displaced refugees.
The first hour of the film shows their struggle to accept each other as the new family in a new land along with a foreign language, which Yalini nor Dheepan understand. Illayaal, wise enough for her age, adapts to her new environment and family and does her best to learn to French. The fake family then moves to e Pré, where Dheepan gets the job of a caretaker at the developing housing society. The society has drug lords and gang lords who assess everyone, yet mind their own business as long as others do. Dheepan, having seen much worse, does his chores obediently and keeps his family away from them. His dead wife and dead daughters in Sri Lanka, somewhere seems to have played a major role for him to keep away from weapons and war and for his sympathetic nature towards Yalini and Illayaal. He is protective about them. Yalini, keeps an eye out for any opportunity that she might get for going to England where her cousin. Illayaal at Le Pré is enrolled to a school where she is doing very well and copes well with French and translates and teaches Dheepan and Yalini from time to time.
When Yalini gets a house cleaning and cooking job in the same society for a reasonably good pay, she discovers the drug dealers and gets uncomfortable under their gaze. Her job to feed the old man goes well, till she finds herself drawn towards his niece Brahmin (Vincent Rottiers), friendship, attraction whatever it is, is left for the audience to interpret. A scene where they both communicate in their mother tongues, not understanding the other, yet understanding each other is outstanding. The film is full of moments. Whether it’s Dheepan making a gold foil frame for his dead family’s photograph or dancing to Tamil songs, Yalini and dheepan breaking the ice and having a conversation where Yalini pulls his leg for not having a sense of humor or Illayaal asking Yalini to treat her like her sibling if not her daughter, the moments are honest and human.
Jacques Audiard’s understanding of characters with violent background seeking redemption is brilliant. Shot and edit well with least and appropriate background score makes the film smooth and without distractions. The performance by all the actors is phenomenally powerful and empathetic. Dheepan won the Palme D’or at the 2015 Cannes film festival and rates 7.2 on IMDB, 88% on rotten tomatoes and 4/5 by The Guardian. Don’t miss this one.