2015 // France // Jacques Audiard
Criterion Collection (LINK)
The most strikingly beautiful shot in Dheepan happens soon after the prologue: some brimming butterflies slowly revealed themselves in slo-mo with a pitch-dark background and a lyrically sacred score, gradually we realised they are some glaring headbands worn by the titular character Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) as for sale on the street of Paris. This poetic transition transposed the characters from the civil war-torn Sri Lanka to the multicultural city of France within seconds, the perilous and unpredictable emigration process was left offscreen for the spectators to imagine, or else to be read in news across Europe where increasing number of immigrants and refugees have been stirring up heated debate on ethical, cultural, financial and security issues.
French director Jacques Audiard took the initiative to examine on this contemporary post-globalisation social issue and meshed with some unexpected generic tropes of gangster film and family drama. The result is a third-quarter of poignant drama and a bombastic incongruous ending structurally similar to Taxi Driver (1976). The ending involves, again in slo-mo, a bloodbath shooting across the courtyard and up the stairs in the household area where Dheepan and his forged family relocated after successfully passed the social service questioning. Like an inescapable pull to fate, Dheepan, a former Tamil Tiger soldier in Sri Lanka who lost his family in war, had to reapply to his professional skills in order to protect his new family in the estranged territory. Even though Dheephan drew a white line dividing the housing compound and claiming a No Fire Zone on his side, war and violence are once again proved to be borderless.
So do compassion and bonding. The forged family tie was pragmatic at first, Dheepan’s wife Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) was a desperate woman trying to join her cousin in London, while their daughter Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) was a parent-less girl found by Yalini in the refuge camp in order to impose as a three-person family. They took the identity of the dead in Sri Lanka and relocated to France which they knew little about, and they hardly spoke French. Dheepan then worked as a vendor and later a caretaker of the household compound they lived, Yalini earned some extra money by taking care a feeble Monsieur Habib (Faouzi Bensaïdi) across the yard whose nephew Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) is the head of the gangsters stationing at the estate. Illayaal had a rough time making friends at school where she was placed in the special need class for immigrants.
The wish for spiritual redemption of Dheepan was manifested as a poetic dream of an elephant in a forest, perhaps a juxtaposition to Ganesha, the Hindu deity worshiped by Yalini. Bonding was slowly formed in the forged family and they all kind of adapted their false identities, and perhaps the lies could as well be turned into truth. But soon the haunted past of Dheepan resurfaced when his fled comrades from Sri Lanka emerged. All these had created a riveting and tantalising drama of conflicts in identities that could sustain the film entirely, yet this was soon to be overshadowed by the imminent danger of gangster shooting. When the over-the-top heroic shooting scene ended, the spectators were rewarded with a much idealised fantasy-like happy ending that seemed to comfort us from being irritated by the hyperrealistic route it just took. The last act was polarising and almost repulsive to those who immersed themselves fully in the realism adopted since the beginning. Perhaps the film should end before the epilogue, at least it went out as a bang and not a huh.