Acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) returns with this powerful Palme d’Or winning drama that takes a stark look at immigration and the difficulties of starting a new life.
Beginning with a harrowing segment showing bodies being burned at the end of the brutal Sri Lankan Civil War, we follow Tamil Tiger fighter Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) who poses as the husband and father to two other refugees in order to escape his war-torn homeland.
Once he and his newfound wife (Kalieswari Srinivasan) and daughter (Claudine Vinasithamby) arrive at their new home in a crime-ridden area of the Parisian outskirts, Dheepan gets whatever job he can – a caretaker in their apartment building.
Rather than the obvious political angle, it’s a film much more interested in the human cost and what it really means to start over and leave everything you’ve ever known to come to a new land where opportunity seems as tantalizingly possible as uncertainty is brutally apparent. Not only does this mean Dheepan having to readjust to an entirely new way of making a living, but also his daughter having to get used to a new school where she’s told to forget homeland customs.
There’s a keen sense of muscular, gritty realism that spares none of the gory details of this family’s fraught situation – explosive moments of horrific violence and all-too-believable domestic disputes alike – that are meritoriously punctuated with enigmatic visual flights of fancy.
It’s a magical realism that brings to mind Benh Zeitlin’s Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild, not least in its use of animals – specifically a motif of an elephant emerging from blurred closeness to brilliant clarity – to create a metaphorical yet strangely tangible cinematic landscape.
With well-written characters, subtly affecting performances and a commitment to uncompromising storytelling, Audiard paints a rich, believable and powerfully sympathetic picture of the effect of immigration on lives and what it means to find a place to call home.