Dheepan (2016)

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“The three of us have a secret.”

The two most perplexing and telling shots in Dheepan hone in on an elephant, the camera fixed while the giant slowly moves in and out of the frame. Because of an elective class I took in college focused on religion, and primarily dealing with Buddhism, I was able to make a quick connection. Referenced by one character, it’s a visualization of the God Ganesh, the figure of strength and steadfastness. The first image is sublime, almost deceptive in its content. Second time around we see the animal eye to eye. In this case, the elephant in the room is a symbol of hope. Dheepan, one of the finest films to come along in recent years, frequently and adamantly understands the fragility of existence, as well as the importance of physical and emotional contact. Its powerful pulse is palpable, audible, and above all else, pronounced.

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Dheepan displays director Jacques Audiard in complete command. He’s no stranger to depicting class struggles, here telling a film blending the subtlety of a Dardennes Brothers picture with the immediacy of an Asghar Farhadi film. Traveling from Sri Lanka to France, we follow a makeshift family in hopes of a better, brighter, richer future. Rupees exchanged for Euros, conversations doomed to be lost in translation. Even when taken out of its sharp social context or political musings, Dheepan nestles its way into your heart by being so authentically humanistic. Audiard observes the lives of those around him who are different and projects them through the definitive looking glass of his camera lens. What we see is what we get, and it’s value is typically immeasurable.

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Jesusthasan Antonythasan plays the titular role of Dheepan. It’s a fake name he’s taken on to find asylum, smudging his past role in the Sri Lankan civil war conflict. He drinks too much, drags cigarettes, succumbs to fear easily and often. Days are filled working as a building caretaker. Dheepan makes house with Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), a pretend wife. They raise Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), a pretend child. This little ad hoc family, pieced together through need and not out of want, vacillates between pretend and truth. He aims for assimilation. Yalini clings to her heritage. Illayaal wants to fit in at school and to learn. This is an alternative life where they must adapt to the radical shift in environment and adopt the identities of the dead they have taken as their own.

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Audiard implements a welcome sense of humor to go with all of the drama that’s only further elaborated upon by these fantastic performances. Unlike the language barrier humor, the filmmaker never fails to trasmit his message. Dheepan is a man who has seen real war, and in the suspenseful finale, confronting small time thugs to find Yalini, we see an unforgiving drive to maintain the new normal the three have come to accept. By doing so, Dheepan suggests fate can be manipulated and altered for the purpose of survival. This timely and spell-binding immigrant tale inspires faith, compassion, camraderie, and achieves all three superlatives through an unrivaled sense of urgency. When people say a film is important, Dheepan is the type they’re talking about.

“Spare us the misfortune and make things go well here.”

Rating: 5 out of 5

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