It’s not often a film from France made by a French filmmaker has a majority of its dialogue set entirely in Tamil. It’s even less often to see such a film address the topic of social discrimination. Dheepan, a French drama written and directed by Jacques Audiard, is one such film, and it has the highest movie honour from France attached to its name – the Palme d’Or from the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
Dheepan focuses on three central characters – Dheepan, Yalini, and Illayaal – a trio who moved from Sri Lanka to France after the Sri Lankan Civil War. Originally named Sivadhasan, Tamil Tiger soldier Dheepan takes his new name after that of a dead man as he is provided another passport in order to secure political asylum in France. Dheepan is played by Antonythasan Jesuthasan in his first leading role. The casting is especially meaningful as Jesuthasan used to be a boy soldier himself with the Tamil Tigers.
In France, Dheepan manages to secure himself a job as a caretaker as he ekes out a decent living. Kalieaswari Srinivasan plays Yalini. She becomes the wife of Dheepan in order to move to France, eventually becoming a domestic helper for a local family. Lastly, Claudine Vinasithamby plays Illayaal, the third and last of the made-up family of three. Being a teenager, she enrols in a local school as a student.
As they settle into their new lives and environments, issues begin to arise. Barely acquainted with each other, the trio are forced to work together if they want to survive. Furthermore, their lack of proficiency in French proves a language barrier to their employers and classmates at school. Thus, they treasure any ability they have in speaking in French as it serves to their advantage.
As a dramatic film, the performances by the three central characters feel genuine and raw. This is especially so given that this is their first time acting in a feature film – one that requires them to conform to a society.
In today’s context, Dheepan’s relevance as a film that deals with social injustice and discrimination is spot-on. It’s likely an accurate depiction of current refugees in Europe as they deal with the social conflicts that get in their way as they adjust to other cultures.
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
Genre: Crime, Drama
Running time: 109 minutes
French with English subtitles
Date: Saturday, 5 December 2015
Venue: Alliance Francaise Theatre