Opening 10 Dec 2015
Near the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan), a Tamil freedom fighter, sees that defeat is imminent and decides to flee and claim asylum in Europe. He takes with him a young woman and a child in the hopes that they will ease the asylum process. Once they are in Paris, Dheepan takes a job as the caretaker to a run-down housing block that is riddled with gangs and violence. Despite wanting to move on from the violence of his past, he will have to use the terrible skills he developed during the war to protect his new family.
In a time when Europe is facing a refugee crisis of giant proportions, Dheepan is an eye opening examination of the plight of asylum seekers. Jacques Audiard does not hold back any punches when it comes to depicting the realities of their lives and it is in this regard that the film is successful. There is fear, isolation, loneliness, and even deceit which mark both their lives before and after entering Europe. Dheepan eventually finds himself in Paris, which should be full of opportunities, but he now lives with a woman and child who are strangers to one another and he struggles to support them all without knowing the language. For a brief moment it seems that things might be changing for the better when he gets a job being a caretaker in a housing block, but this soon shows itself to be an even worse situation. Despite trying his hardest to keep his new “family” together and to fit into French society, he finds himself dragged back to the violence that marked his past.
There is something powerful about depicting the slow, tenuous realities of the lives of asylum seekers, and that is the strength of the beginning of Dheepan. Unfortunately, Audiard seems to have decided halfway through that this was not poignant enough or perhaps he found the pace too slow, for then the film shifts rather outrageously into something of an action film. While it does demonstrate the fragile psychological state of the protagonists, it weakens the overall theme and effectiveness of the film’s first act. Dheepan begins as a realistic depiction of the plights of some refugees, but by the end becomes warp and Hollywood-esque and in doing so loses its authenticity. The fact that it won a Golden Palm at Cannes feels more like a political statement rather than a true testament of its artistic quality. That being said, it is still a worthwhile watch, particularly for its sensitive beginning. (Rose Finlay)