Review: Dheepan (2016)

My plot review: Recommended
Star rating: Star rating of 4

Note, minor details of film finale included.

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Jacques Audiard’s latest crime drama is a gripping exploration of immigration.

Audiard once described his movie making as being like 'rolling thunder', and that is exactly what Dheepan is like. With a satisfying level-headed pace, the movie has you constantly on the edge of your seat, expecting something terrible to happen, whilst building on the difficulties the characters face to the point where it has you really rooting for them. This tension builds and builds until the rolling thunder turns into lightening towards the end, where Dheepan shows the screen his fighting tendencies with an eruption of violence to save the day.

Perhaps this sudden turn would ruin the movie for some viewers, but I found it to be a powerful way to illustrate the refugee experience in France. If there is one thing this film emanates, it is a pro-immigration standpoint. It highlights the lengths which people will go to escape their volatile homelands and how their introduction to Europe is still fraught with difficulties.

Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) flees Sri Lanka after losing his entire family, where he was engaged as a Tamil Tigers warrior. He doesn't flee alone though, after some instantly hard-hitting first scenes of bodies being burnt in Sri Lanka, we follow a young woman, soon to go by the name Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), searching a refugee camp for a parentless child. She finds a 9 year old girl, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), and the three of them set off for France with the passports of dead Sri Lankan citizens, posing as a fake family.

All three of these actors work together brilliantly to portray a tender depiction of how they go about creating new lives for themselves in a housing estate surrounded by drug-peddling gangs. Their internal 'family' difficulties begin to show, Yalini doesn't know how to be around children to the point where young Illayaal has to give her some tips, and Dheepan has a warrior mentality and no sense of humour which seems to be the only thing stopping Yalini falling for him.

Despite all of this, the three form an allegiance to each other through this shared secret of being a family of strangers, who have each lost their families to war. They have no other choice. In the end this is what gets them out of a region with escalating violence on the outskirts of Paris, a bitter reminder of the turmoil they were trying to escape in Sri Lanka.

Audiard's way of capturing the emotions and building on character whilst simultaneously gaining tension and a sense of danger is greatly helped by the way this picture is filmed. Favouring close-up shots and focussing on the emotions of the refugees to illustrate a situation leaves the rest of the wider picture outside of the frame at times, which makes you nervous as a viewer. This really made for gripping viewing during the penultimate scenes of violence, too.

The finale is a little bit twee and a huge juxtaposition in tone, as the three of them eventually make it to Yalini's cousin in England. It seems optimistic at best, implausible at worst, knowing what we do about immigration laws, and a little too convenient an ending considering the vehement tension built throughout the movie. The British streets are presented as idyllic and the soundtrack at this point made me think that this was an intentional political statement... I actually hope it is, because in that case it didn't ruin the movie for me.

Overall, I highly recommend adding this powerful piece of filmmaking to your watchlist.