15th April 2016

HOME Pick of the Week: Dheepan

Dheepan is the 2015 Palme D’Or-winning crime drama that tells a story that the media never did; Nadia Cheung reviews the film as it comes to HOME

If you know anything about the Sri Lankan Civil War, you probably might feel that it was a war, derived from a conflict between the Singhalese and Tamil people of Sri Lanka, that was not reported on as much as it could or should have been. Described as a “war without witnesses”, a lot protests happened over the years, but many probably didn’t know why or what they were about other than that “it’s probably something to do about Sri Lanka and politics, maybe.”

Dheepan is a drama following a family of strangers headed by a former Tamil Tiger militant taking on the identity and passport of a dead man named Dheepan (FYI: the Tamil Tigers were a guerrilla organisation who wanted to gain Eelam as an independent Tamil state, and employed militant tactics to do so, but lost to the government). They leave behind a post-war Sri Lanka to settle down and seek refuge in a housing project somewhere in France with undesirable residents, where violence and crime is just as apparent and is just as much of an everyday occurrence.

Dheepan takes on a job as as housekeeper of the building, sorting out the cleaning, mail and maintenance—all the while manoeuvring around French self-made criminals and gangsters hoisting guns and swaggering around the residence ready to point, shoot and kill at any given moment. Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), Dheepan’s faux wife takes on the simple task of cooking and cleaning for a nearby resident, all the while resenting that she is France and not in the England where she could have been with her cousins and familiars. She gets caught between trying to make peace.  She lacks any maternal instincts and has a tumultuous relationship with 9-year-old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) who equally has just as much as a hard time connecting with two random grown-ups who pose as her parents, as well as a new school, and learning French.

The ending was pretty disappointing to say the least, but that’s because I’m not a fan of predictable romance. And the romance was predictable. But it’s okay, because the whole story overshadows that and you won’t have to think about the shabby ending montage anyway. The acting performances in this film were pretty great, and this was probably the most gripping part of what made the film so intense and dramatic for a crime drama film. The cinematography was probably best of all, with a fitting soundtrack that didn’t overcompensate and abuse the subject matter to near-exploitation.

Overall, writer-director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet) brings us into another drama about love, family and humanity. The script is great and the dialogue wasn’t too shabby for a French film that was mostly in Tamil. Dheepan won the Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival 2015, and brought widespread attention to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Though still today, there still isn’t the media attention that there could be, and that makes me really question about where popular media stands about these kind of things, but I guess that sadly not many people think it’s worth knowing about.


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