Some years ago now in my brief stint as an industrial recruitment consultant, I was tasked with placing refugees from all over the globe, and with limited English language skills, into menial factory work. An immigrant brain surgeon from Somalia required to stack flower pots in a plastics factory, or an Eritrean engineer who’d filled the ‘reason for temporary work’ section on his application form with the words, “Civil War” – that sort of thing.
The issue of civil war and the resultant mass immigration that can occur is the subject matter of director Jacques Audiard’s excellent, gritty drama, Dheepan.
With a war ripping his home land apart, Dheepan, a Sri Lankan Tamil fighter, is determined to flee these troubles and emigrate to pastures new. An opportunity to relocate to France presents itself and together with fellow refugee camp dwellers Yalini and Ilayaal, they take their falsified documents and board the first boat out of port in search of a new life.
A ‘family unit’ they may well be on paper, but none of them actually know each other.
A move to a run-down housing estate on the periphery of Paris under normal circumstances might be a fairly daunting prospect, but considering where they’ve come from and what they’ve all been through, Dheepan and the others put a brave face on it and quietly assume new roles within their newly adopted lifestyle.
Dheepan is to be the caretaker for the estate, whereas Yalini will work as a carer for a relatively elderly gentleman in the block opposite. Whilst the connection remains unconfirmed, it would appear that the elderly man is in some way related to Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), a young lad of dubious character and temperament, recently released from jail and with whom he shares the flat.
Whilst hoping that a fresh start would confine the untold horrors of his previous life to the pages of history, Dheepan is soon to discover that his new surrounds present a whole new set of challenges, with drugs and the dealing thereof, causing continual disturbances and explosive anarchy within the estate. With this as a catalyst, it’s only a matter of time before the apparently mild-mannered Dheepan begins to descend into a familiar, troubled state of mind; gradually nudged closer to the edge of his tolerance levels.
Jesuthasan Antonythasan’s performance is very affecting as Dheepan, whilst Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby are both excellent in their support roles as Dheepan’s surrogate wife and child, Yalini and Illayaal, respectively, collectively portraying a ‘family’ forced to display admirable restraint having somehow stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
With the latest EU immigrant ‘crisis’ fresh in everybody’s minds, director Jacques Audiard’s take on the issue, whilst coming from a slightly different geographical angle, is highly topical and tackles the issue of both immigration and necessary integration, and it does so convincingly.
That said, it is something of a surprise though that Audiard doesn’t necessarily attribute the film’s somewhat unexpected explosive finale to any sort of cumulative effect of people’s ignorant racial prejudices, but more so to the long-term mental scarring that so often plagues those that end up as psychological casualties of war.
A tense, sometimes bleak look into lives torn apart, and the tough, unforgiving road that can stretch ahead, in rebuilding them.