By Holly Thicknes
Is fearless filmmaking – films that address the most contentious subjects of the present – often coupled with a nihilism that leaves the audience depressed? DHEEPAN – winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes film festival in 2015 – is deep, without being a drag. Violence thematically dominate a film that never forgets to find humorous moments wherever it can.
Director Jacques Audiard
Starring Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan
Running Time 115 Minutes
UK Release Date 8th April 2016
“The film is built on integrity and executed with humour”
The RUST AND BONE director has pulled out the bag a truly uplifting refugee story that keeps its premises as open to all the issues that touch it as the characters have to be to survive themselves. Although tragedy follows the ex-Tamil Tiger Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) from Sri Lanka to France, this story is one of catharcism and growing as opposed to how crippling the effects of trauma can be.
And the fearlessness of the film is perhaps captured best in the fact that Dheepan’s character is partly based on the early life of the actor who plays him. Antonythasan fought for the Tamil Tigers in his youth before seeking political asylum in France. 23 years passed by before he was cast as the star of a film about a Sri Lankan soldier building a new life with two other refugees in Paris.
Sivadhasan (the protagonist’s real name) is to become Dheepan: a man killed in the conflict with a readily available passport. Dheepan had a wife and daughter, who’s identities will be utilised by people Sivadhasan barely knows so the three of them can form an avatar-of-a-family with the sole intent of escaping and surviving. The stakes are high, the success rates low. This assuming of the identity of an unknown man – who the film is named after, no less – really colours the story with a sense of the degradation of human life: the replacability of individuals in conflict zones, and the legacy of pain that follows from such inhumane behaviour.
Dheepan secures a job as a caretaker on a suburban estate in Paris, his ‘daughter’ Illayaal (a somewhat sidelined Claudine Vinasithamby) attends the local school where she picks up French quicker than her adopted parents, and his stand-in wife Yalini (an almost show-stealing Kalieaswari Srinivasan) becomes the carer of the local gangster’s father. The comedy of this melting pot of language and accents, customs and cultural behaviours, tentative relationships being formed and shifting home dynamics, is a sweet enough remedy to the constant impending promises of the family’s history repeating itself.
So although DHEEPAN never pulls its punches, the depictions of physical threat can be calmly absorbed whilst enjoying the charm and wit of characters that are experiencing a cultural melding as they try to make a new life for themselves in a foreign environment.
Too often we focus on the negative fallout of failed multiculturalism, groaning at the obvious misgivings of shoving people from very different habitats together in one space and letting them make do with very little resource-wise. ‘Ghettoism’, rather than encouraged community, being the European way of dealing with things it would prefer to ignore, it’s understandable that this far-reaching subject would be tainted with negativity in its representation for many.
But DHEEPAN reminds us how funny throwing utterly opposite people together can be – and how enlightening for the people involved, should they keep an open mind. After all, it is open mindedness alone that keep this stiched-together family afloat when nothing seems to be going right for them.
What DHEEPAN does best is prove that honest filmmaking doesn’t have to be void of light. It chooses to capture the resilience of human nature, which will seek out support, ask to be nurtured and subconsciously build new communities should one be shattered by circumstance. It is overbrimming with sad truths, however remains fervently hopeful, reminding us that the only true remedy of trauma is love.
April 5, 2016