Dheepan’s Intimate and Social Dimension
Dheepan tackles social issues in an intimate manner, thanks to a fluid narrative which is able to create visual paths that reveal the characters' subconscious.
Dheepan tackles social issues in an intimate manner, thanks to a fluid narrative which is able to create visual paths that reveal the characters’ subconscious.
After the Sri Lankan civil war, a former Tamil Tiger soldier (played by Jesuthasan Antonythasan) meets a young woman, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a little girl, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby). Their only chance at obtaining political asylum is by pretending to be a family, when they’re actually complete strangers. Once they manage to get to France, Dheepan – this is the main character’s fake name – finds a job as a caretaker in a problematic suburb of Paris, where the “family” tries to live a normal life.
At first, the only thing that keeps this pretend family together is secrecy, along with the fact that they know they can’t go back to Sri Lanka. Yet soon, without realizing it, they are bonded by the difficulties they experience in this different and new society. Home becomes a reassuring routine for each of them.
The director, Jacques Audiard, finds a subtle way to show their reaction to this, by focusing on Dheepan or Yalini as they watch the others behaving like a family. There are several scenes of this situation, and the viewer hangs over the character’s shoulder, completely empathizing with his or her feelings.
For Dheepan, a chance at a fresh start means giving up his identity. However, it doesn’t mean renouncing his cultural heritage and habits, as Sri Lankan culture can be cultivated at home or among compatriots. Instead, his fresh start entails repressing all memories connected to his past life, to his history.
Not only Audiard tackles the issues of migrants, but he also carries out an examination of French society.
This story has been partly inspired by Persian Letters, in which Montesquieu offers a satire of Western costumes, seen through the eyes of two Persian noblemen travelling through France.
In Dheepan, the characters sometimes relate what they see in France to the world they have escaped from. At first, such a comparison may seem artificial but, as the film goes on, this French banlieue ran by criminals appears more and more dangerous, particularly through Dheepan’s eyes, the eyes of a warrior. Moreover, in this suburb, everyone is rootless, therefore integration into a new community is not necessary, as there isn’t an actual community to begin with: the banlieue is just another deviated social habitat, just like a country ravaged by war.
These social issues are condensed into the private dimension of Dheepan’s character, and Audiard finds new means to convey this on screen, adopting fluid transitions from one scene to another as well as from one genre to another. In particular, there is a setting which represents the characters’ subconscious dimensions: the stairs in the building where Yalini finds employment. Here, Yalini’s deepest fears and Dheepan’s repressed traumas come to the surface, establishing an alternative language between the director and the audience.
Writers: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
Cast: Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers, Faouzi Bensaïdi, Marc Zinga