Dheepan (2015)

A poignant and emotionally charged drama that skillfully traces the immigrant experience in foreign land seeking asylum, their identity and resilience to face challenges

9/17/20234 min read

Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Claudine Vinasithamby in 'Dheepan'
Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Claudine Vinasithamby in 'Dheepan'

Tamil, French, 121 minutes

Director: Jacques Audiard

Cast: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers, Marc Zinga

Awards: Winner, Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival, 2015; Winner, Best Film & Best Director (Knight Competition Grand Jury prize), Miami Film Festival, 2016; Nominee, Best Film not in English Language, BAFTA Award Nominations, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Production Design and 4 other disciplines, Cesar Awards, 2016

Set during the last days of struggle or war between Sri Lanka government and LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), Shivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) loses all his comrades and he has to flee. Problem is that immigration and getting asylum is easy if he has a family. His wife and daughter are already dead. So Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), a 26 year old lady and a nine year old girl, Illayaal ( Claudine Vinasithamby), another orphan, not related to Shivadhasan and Yalini, tag along making these three a fake family. Shivadhasan is given the identity of a dead man, Dheepan Natarajan. They all arrive in France to start a new life.

Dheepan, Yalini and Illayaal start living in Le Pre, a suburb outside Paris. Dheepan takes the job of a caretaker of a block of apartments which is housed in a neighborhood infested with drug dealers and their gangs, Yalini lands up working as a cook and housemaid of an elderly gentleman who lives with his nephew Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) and Illayaal is admitted to school as a special child. Dheepan works diligently and soon is recognized as a good caretaker. Yalini’s brother lives in London and she actually wants to go there. Brahim is a gangster, dealing in drugs, who has been released from Penitentiary on probation. Yalini doesn’t understand any other language other than Tamil and manages with her nominal French somehow. She and Brahim talk in broken French and strike a kind of friendly bond.

Life seems to be getting on track for the three, but once due to some dispute among rival gangs, a fight takes place and bullets are fired. Unfortunately, Yalini and Illayaal are caught in the cross fire as they are returning home. They somehow manage to return home safely but Yalini is so shaken up by the experience that she decides to go to London. She takes her passport and goes to station without telling anybody. Dheepan, on his return finds Yalini gone with her belongings. He traces her to station, takes passport from her and asks her to return back. Without the passport she is helpless and returns with Dheepan. She is angry and tells Dheepan that she is not his wife and Illayaal is not her daughter so she can go whenever she wants. Dheepan is speechless. Next day he draws a white line between his apartment complex and opposite complex saying his apartment complex is ‘no firing zone’. Gangs and Brahim do not take this well. Brahim tells Yalini to explain to her husband that he will kill him if his business deals are compromised. Yalini tells that to Dheepan but his soldier’s ego doesn’t take threat lying down.

As Yalini is working during daytime at Brahim’s place, a slew of bullets gets fired from outside. She ducks and saves herself but finds old gentleman, sitting on table dead and Brahim injured heavily. She wants to run but Brahim catches her and asks her to call her husband to save them. She calls Dheepan who is asleep after early morning work. She is panicking and Dheepan asks her where she is? On learning her whereabouts and the condition she is in, Dheepan’s hidden soldier’s instincts and skills resurface. To save his ‘wife’ he hijacks a car, sets fire to it and rams it in another vehicle. He snatches gun from a gangster, kills him and gets inside the building and in an innovatively shot sequence, we hear bullets being fired and Dheepan marching on among smoky and dark stairway. He saves Yalini who is alive with Brahim already dead.

After a year, we see Dheepan and Yalini with a newborn child living in London.

Jacques Audiard has cast all non- professional actors and Antonythasan Jesuthasan (who played Dheepan) was himself a child soldier with LTTE in Sri Lanka. Both Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby had never worked in a feature film. This is also Cinematographer, Eponine Momenceau’s first feature film. So director Jacques has assembled all rookies but created a powerful masterpiece which is mostly in Tamil language. There are many poignant scenes which touch us like when Illayaal asks Yalini innocently to kiss her goodbye like every parent is doing at the school gate or when Yalini confesses to Illayaal that she has no experience of handling kids and Illayaal urges her to take her as her younger brother or sister and teaching Yalini and Dheepan French at home. It really is a creative joint effort which made this film win Palme d’Or, the top prize at the topmost film festival but surely Jacques Audiard, being the captain of the ship, deserves three cheers for his masterful and sensitive handling. The film was shot in the state of Tamilnadu, India and in La Coudraie, Poissy, Yvelines, France.

About the director, Jacques Audiard

Born in April, 1952 in Paris, Jacques started his film career as a screenplay writer. He first wrote screenplay of the film ’Kisses Till Monday’ (French title- Bons baisers…A Lundi) with his father, Michel Audiard, another French screenwriting giant. Interestingly, Michel was the director of this film which was made in 1974.Then in eighties, he wrote screenplay for number of films starting with ‘Le Professionnel’ produced in 1981. In 1984 he also wrote for a French crime TV series ‘Serie noire’ created by Pierre Grimblat.

He directed his first feature film, ‘See How they Fall’ in 1994 in which a Sales representative tries to investigate the murder of his police officer friend. The film won Cesar Award for Best First Film of a director. His next film, ‘A Self-made Hero’ made in 1996, won Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival and Stockholm Film Festival and was nominated for Palme d’Or.

‘Dheepan’ is Jacques’s seventh feature film which won top prize at Cannes Film festival and garnered nine nominations at Cesar Awards. The film was inspired by a film made in 1971, ‘Straw Dogs’. During filmmaking, it is said that Antonythasan Jesuthasan, actor playing role of ‘Dheepan’ contributed towards script development who himself is a playwright and novelist in France now.