14 February 2016 | lasttimeisaw
Don't immigrate to France, all those war refugees
Watched this prestigious Palme d'Or winner in the local art house cinema Zawya, it is French auteur Jacques Audiard's seventh feature film, who is on a hot streak in the past decade, from THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005), to A PROPHET (2009), then RUST AND BONE (2012), now finally DHEEPHAN hits the home run in his motherland.
To escaping from the living hell of a defeated war in Sri Lanka, a Tamil freedom fighter Dheepan (Antonythasan, who was a real-life boy solider of Tamil Tiger before fleeing to France), forges a family with Yalini (Srinivasan), a young woman in her early twenties and Illayaal (Vinasithamby), a nine-year-old girl, which facilitates the process of seeking asylum in Europe, and they end up in a Le Pré, a suburban area of Paris (although Yalini hopes to go to the Great Britain, where her cousin is) where anarchy is still held rampant among local gangsters. In spite of their language debacle, Dheepan becomes a caretaker of a derelict housing block and he also finds a job for Yalini, as a hourly maid to attend to a senior uncle of the gangster member Brahim (Rottiers), who has just been released from the penitentiary for probation, whereas Illayaal enrols in the local school where she has a tough time to blend in.
Paris, even the suburban area, should be a safe haven for the makeshift family taking flight from a war zone, but in Audiard's conception, France is far cry from a paradise for immigrants and refugees, hooliganism and gang war threaten Dheepan and his family's life almost on a daily basis, which is an ever so familiar situation for them, as if the shadows of war have tracked them from their native country to another continent, no exit is on the horizon, everywhere seems to be a dead-end, life is almost the same, worthless, in spite of being accommodated in a quite comfy apartment and earning a self-sufficient wages, they can be dispatched by the flying bullets any time on the streets, even under the broad daylight. Sooner or later, the straining mental stress will implode, especially for Yalini, whose working condition becomes increasingly precarious since she deals with gangster members first-hand, a highly-stylish set piece where Dheepan single-handedly takes on the droogs to save Yalini, with unusual subjective camera angle and heightened slo- motion shots aiming persistently to the waist-below, it is Audiard's intemperate stunt to impress after holding it back for a long time, nevertheless it deficiently appeases what viewers anticipate (especially when Dheepan's provocative behaviour of drawing the line between warring gangsters receives no personal danger to him or whatsoever) - to exaggerate Dheephan's "heroic act" as if he is the action hero who is capable to calmly finishing off his enemies one by one with great panache, is too much a stretch, even for someone with his battlefield background, since his life is too insignificant to matter under the radical situations which Audiard insists to lead us on. So is the ambiguous happy ending in England, a dream too perfect to be true which contradicts the harsh realism which Audiard intently fabricates.
Where all three main actors are non-professionals, it is pleasing to watch a tangible bond has been built between Yalini and Brahim, lost in translation, they don't understand each other's language, but the beguiling charm and draw between total strangers has reached its well-received receptor without put civil decency at its expense. In spite of being an allegorical account of a seemingly ordinary person's unexpected hidden depths, DHEEPHAN arrives topically in the current muddy waters of immigrants and war refugees in Europe, it leaves the impression of a self-justifying excuse to warn those unfortunately masses, but maybe they are not deeming Europe as the promised land, for them, any place other than their levelled home, is an egress from danger and poverty, so, at such desperation, it is well worth it.
One particularly telling scene of Audiard's poetic creativity is when the location transitions from Sri Lanka to Paris, the blurry fluorescent light slowly reveals itself being generated from a plastic hat which Dheepan wears when he is hawking on the street of Paris with other immigrants, such sleight-of-hand is mesmerising, alas, there is just not enough of them in this Palme d'Or crowner.