Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard, is a film with an honesty to it; with that, comes the pleasantries, the sadness and the darkness of real life. This is a film that at times almost doesn’t feel like a film, more like a slice of real life. I found myself totally enraptured by Dheepan, and I’m looking forward to breaking down the many stellar elements of it, in this review. So without further a due, let’s begin.
It is Dheepan himself – played by Jesuthasan Antonythasan – and his pretend wife, Yalini – played by Kalieaswari Srinivasan – who we follow in this film. Along with their pretend daughter (Illayaal) the three are refugees who flee Sri Lanka after a terrible war. They end up in France. Given menial jobs and now living on an estate that is crawling with criminals, both Dheepan and Yalini start to adapt to the very different lives they now lead. However it is the troublesome relationship between this forcefully created family that drives the film.
The absolute heart and soul of this film is its two lead characters (of whom I’ll be talking quite a bit about in this review). First: Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan), what works best about this character are the layers to him. Upfront we see a man who has left his past behind and looks as if he has himself together, but as the film progresses is begins to unveil someone who is very much still affected by the horrors he saw – and perhaps committed – back home in Sri Lanka. What was surprising was how the film handled this; it didn’t telegraph Dheepan’s internal issues, it instead allowed them to naturally play out. Along with the film, we the audience slowly begin to realise that this is a man who isn’t completely with himself, mentally. That development is slowly and carefully presented. By the time it does become apparent, I had already had a lot of time to get to know who Dheepan was as a person, which made is unforeseen descent even more emotional.
But it is not only Dheepan who has a story to be told in this film: Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) is also as much of an important character as he is. Her struggle comes from a much different place. She is a young woman who very much does not like the situation she has ended up in; she has to look after a 9-year-old girl who isn’t hers, she has to live with a man who isn’t her husband, and she has to do all this while living in a dangerous, unknown place. This results in a character that is bubbling with growth. Yalini goes on a journey of not only discovering who she is, but also what her place is in all of this craziness. The sweetness to the character but also the strength of the character makes for someone who is so diverse in their output. Yalini is someone who won’t instantly be likeable to the audience, but with the time that the film allows her to grow, she becomes someone who you can’t help but root for.
What this all ends up meaning, is that you have a film that is supported and propelled by two characters that demand and deserve all of your attention. You can look at Dheepan and Yalini as two separate people of course, but to also look at them as the pair that they become is another great strength of this film. Here you have two characters that don’t get along, that are forced to be with one another, and then add to that they also have to look after a child that isn’t theirs. It’s the perfect recipe for compelling character development. I became so invested in wanting these characters to not only succeed as individuals but as a pair. And thankfully ‘Dheepan’ is a film that more than gives adequate time to watch them grow together. There is perhaps nothing more rewarding, than those little moments where the two have a quiet sit-down together and laugh at each other’s silliness, or come around to supporting the other in their personal difficulties. This is a film that makes caring for these two a joy.
So something that’s interesting in ‘Dheepan’ is the secondary(?) plot that plays out in the background of the film. Much of what we learn about this other part of the film is delivered to us by Dheepan and Yalini’s interactions and observations of events. It is mostly Yalini who gives us an insight though, she sees a lot of the behind the scenes of these scary and nefarious people’s goings on. But for the most part we are left to deduce for ourselves just what exactly is happening in these closed off meetings in this tenement block that is crawling with intimidating individuals. It is also handled in a way that means it never overshadows the main thrust of the film; Dheepan and Yalini. So though I was intrigued by what nefarious things might have been unfolding, I never really found myself the invested in it. The more of the two main characters I got, the better.
‘Dheepan’ is one of those films that I could have happily watched another hour of. When I saw that things were winding down, that we were getting close to it all wrapping up, all I could think was: please just let me have a little bit more of these characters. I think that highlights just how well-defined and explored this main characters are in this film. It had to end, but I really just wanted more.
I am absolutely recommending ‘Dheepan’. I got lost in this one, I forgot it was a film at times, and I was utterly entranced by the lives of Dheepan and Yalini – watch this film and lose yourself in it.
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