A timely film from Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet), Dheepan explores the complexity of everyday life of an illegal asylum seeker in Europe and that you’ll never escape what you’re running from.


ssuming the name Dheepan, a former Tamil Tiger soldier (Antonythasan) flees the Sri Lankan Civil War incognito, taking with him refugee Yalini (Srinavasan) and orphan ten-year-old girl Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) who pose as his wife and daughter respectively. They make it to France where Dheepan, despite his lack of French, is employed as a caretaker in a dangerous banlieue occupied by drug dealers who openly display their wares and readily dish out violence. With Illayaal struggling to make headway in school, Yalini earns a crust housekeeping for an elderly man whose apartment is used as a safe house for drug kingpin Brahim (Rottiers)…
hile the day-to-day machinations of living in a foreign country illegally could easily become ordinary, the writer-director finds ways to keep things interesting. But it’s when Audiard gets into the nitty gritty of the domestic situation of the three who are forced to behave like a real family that Dheepan really emotionally connects. Yalini initially exhibits no motherly traits, confessing to Dheepan that she would readily drop him and the girl if the opportunity to make it to her cousin in England if the chance arouse; at one point Illayaal, desperate for some love, touchingly pleads with Yalini to like her. But Dheepan’s determination to instil some parental responsibility in Yalini comes to the fore when she instinctively jumps on Illayaal to put her body between the girl and the flying bullets when Brahim’s crew go to war.
owever, Dheepan’s story lacks bite. What he’s running from will be vague for those who don’t know their Sri Lankan history and when he meets up with a former commander, also living in France incognito, his refusal to get back into the cause would mean more if we knew where he stood in the first place. When the drug war escalates and Dheepan takes a hard-line approach to the violence on his doorstep, we begin to suspect that he all along is suffering from PTSD. This too needed some more oomph. Meanwhile, Yalini’s relationship with the sensitive/dangerous Brahim is difficult to get on board with.
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