Overview: The eponymous character is given a family of strangers, including a fake-wife and a fake-daughter, none of whom have ever met before, and is dropped in France, an equally strange land, before all their lives are completely reset as they depart the war-torn Sri Lankan jungle that they once called home. UGC Distribution; Not Rated; 2015; 109 Minutes.
Father: Dheepan is a freedom fighter. He has fought his war and accepted his loss with dignity. Perhaps it is some ironic sense of redemption that he be reduced to caretaker for the dilapidated French apartment complex Le Pre, the pasture, still taking commands, but for a different cause. Still, he remains honorable in his defeat and attempts to fit in, faking smiles and friendships and disavowing conflicts. But all is not tranquil in the complex, as its name would imply. Rather than the connotative peace and freedom, Dheepan finds instead another war-zone, in the form of gangsters and drug dealers, who claim themselves to be businessmen but do not afford the same sense of nobility that soldiers do. This proves to be a fascinating and suspenseful dynamic.
Beginning briskly with an unsentimental air, the film immediately departs its characters’ native land of Sri Lanka and the revolution occurring within. However, the war exists indefinitely in the background, reminding Dheepan of his gruesome past as he tries to escape its grasp and fit in. There is a moment where he almost succeeds by elebrating his heritage with others like him, finding happiness for a brief scene, before being quickly recognized and sent to report to his colonel (also a refugee operating in France_ who attempts to conscript him back into the Tamil war machine. The film is a slow-burn, the cathartic ending a perfect finale to all of its emotional and dramatic intensity while embellishing the film’s themes of conflict with a flourish.
Mother: This character is meticulously examined as well. She is a barely a woman, yet forced to raise a daughter that is not her own. She finds work cooking and cleaning for the local drug lord’s invalid father and discovers her own sense of freedom. She begins to look forward to this time, where she does not have to pretend to be in love, but rather, gets to cook her own dishes and feel appreciated. Yet simultaneously, it is helping this unresponsive client that allows her to discover her own maternal instincts towards her ‘daughter’, who is similarly brave, going to kindergarten and adapting quickly, bridging the gap between the two bickering parents, even if she does disappear for a bit during the second half of the film.
Language: The use of language in this film is phenomenal. It provides both a sense of progression, while acting as a reminder of the family’s Tamil origins. As the film progresses, French slowly begins to seep in and overtake their original tongue, but they are never able to completely absolve themselves of their differences with everybody else. They obviously do not belong; their words and their skin tones differ from the others, and this makes it all the harder for them.
Yet at the same time, it represents that part of their past that will never disappear, that assimilation will leave untarnished. Their language is the perfect medium to keep their secrets. Because of this, they never lose neither their past identities nor do they forget all of the hardships that make them complex characters to follow. In battle, however, none of this matters, as a bullet piercing air will leave a temporary deafness that stints this aforementioned progress.
Emotion: At the core of this film’s character studies are astounding performances from completely unknown faces in a way that defies regular Hollywood casting. Director Jacques Audiard does not utilize any fancy camera movements or maneuvers, but rather, simple, un-distracting shots which employ every facial expression and movement within the film. The mother’s eyes feel glaring and the father’s feel dead. The score masterfully crafts the landscape of each scene without impeding it – it exists entirely in the background, inevitably effecting without exposing itself. Raw human emotion surrounds the film, contributing to the emotional resonance that emanates from it, creating three characters that elicit sympathy in their own ways.
Overall: Dheepan is an effective social commentary that remains dramatic without feeling emotionally manipulative, and entirely deserving of its Palme d’Or. It is driven by strong performances and a highbrow concept that immediately raises a preponderance of answer-less questions.