Festival Review: Dheepan (2015)


Set on the battlefields of Sri Lanka and the banlieues, Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winning Dheepan is an inspirational tale on the power of family.

A History Of Violence

by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The most political of his films to date, Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winning Dheepan follows the story of a Tamil fighter who finds his way from Sri Lanka to France thanks to a borrowed name, a stolen passport and a makeshift family. Adrift in Paris, Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) sells black market trinkets and lives with his wife and daughter in one room, until he’s finally granted a live-in position at a housing block way beyond the banlieues. Unable to speak French and besieged by the drugs war on their doorstep, Dheepan tells the story of a family of battered and bruised souls growing together from nothing – each harbouring dreams of a better life and fighting memories of the past – either in an alcohol and pop music fuelled binge or in the shape of haunting, lyrical glimpses of a jungle elephant, the symbol of Sri Lanka. And it’s a masterpiece of detail, as Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) goes to school, learns French, becomes her parents’ translator and asks Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) to kiss her goodbye like all the other mums do, so that the school don’t suspect anything. And brutally believable too, as traumatised refugees from a civil war are placed alongside lawless, gun-toting gangsters, a powder keg requiring only a small spark to set the whole tower block ablaze. Until that is Dheepan goes on a Die Hard mission to rescue Yalini from kingpin Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) in his apartment, turning a sensitive study of immigration and strained cooperation into an action-movie bloodbath of flying bullets and explosions. And while it might prove the catharsis that sets them free from the violence of the past, Audiard doesn’t frame his final reel conflict as anything more than the crisis required to bring Yalini and Dheepan back together. While lacking the haunting inexorability of A Prophet or the emotional resonance of Rust And Bone, Dheepan is nevertheless a powerful story of survival – delicately human and violently original.

Dheepan is now showing at the London Film Festival

Join the discussion