Dystopian home from home

This is my review of Dheepan [Blu-ray] [2016].

Three Sri Lankans anxious to escape the horror of the failed Tamil Tiger movement for the safety of Europe masquerade as a family unit to gain asylum in France. In what appears to be a shady arrangement, the ex-fighter who has assumed the identity of the deceased Dheepan takes the job of caretaker on an estate of the giant, grim blocks of flats which blight the suburbs of too many French cities, in this case Paris. “Daughter” Illayaal is young enough to grasp French quickly and integrate into school after some initial problems. It is harder for wife “Yalini” who has no idea how to act the part of a mother, and is clearly more drawn to the young gang leader whose disabled relative she cares for, rather than the often moody and humourless Dheepan. A hard worker, he suffers in silence over the murder of his real family, and memories of his lost homeland, symbolised by blurred images of an elephant emerging from a dense mass of quivering leaves.

Apart from showing how the threesome relate to each other and the alien culture into which they are thrown, the film draws a parallel between the unexpected violence and gang warfare of the estate, and the fighting and insecurity from which they have tried to escape.

The acting by genuine Sri Lankans is good, even remarkable in view of the main players’ lack of experience. This, together with the tackling of the fraught topic of immigration may account for the winning of the 2015 Palme d’Or prize. The plot is thought-provoking, there are some moments of subtle direction and I was prepared to tolerate a slow pace and perhaps deliberately unclear “fly-on-the-wall” delivery style provided it built up to some climax. However, this proved to be quite implausible and confusing. It may seem trivial, but I was also distracted by such practical questions as how the “mother” and “daughter” so quickly obtained a variety of good quality western and traditional clothes. How did they get to know the Tamil (?) Sri Lankans with whom they celebrated in a Hindu (?) temple with a communal picnic afterwards, and why didn’t they leave the dangerous estate to live with them? The trite final scene also appears to be quite a grave artistic error, detracting from the work.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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