Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dheepan - distressing, edgy, tense & absorbing (QFT 22 April-5 May)

At the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, a Tamil Tiger soldier teams up with a wife Yalini he’s never met before and a daughter they buy to flee from a refugee camp to set up a new life in France. Their rapidly assembled nuclear family is meant to help their cover story to claim asylum.

Assuming the name on a dead man’s passport, Dheepan swaps his weaponry for a mop bucket and a screwdriver as he becomes the live-in caretaker covering four blocks of flats. Gangs ‘own’ the area and the family witness a nightly drama out of their ground floor window. They have escaped one conflict to emerge in the middle of someone else’s war.

Little Illayaal demands that her mother “give me a kiss like everyone else” as the young charge is dropped off at school. The child’s grasp of French is stronger than her parents, and she becomes their interpreter as they navigate bureaucracy.

Integration is not easy. Yalini finds work cooking and cleaning for a man confined to his high rise flat. But it’s in the most intimidating block, and soon she becomes acquainted with one of the gang leaders.
“We’re new – it’s normal they stare.”

Intimacy grows amongst the family. All three yearn for physical and emotional security as they battle PTSD. The gang members they rub up against daily are trapped too in their own cycles of conflict.

The calm middle section of the film belies the later explosive scenes when matters escalate and Dheepan finds himself drawn back into a dark place to face his demons. This brutal dénouement has a ballet-like quality while the final dream sequence feels crudely tacked on the end, giving the audience a few welcome moments to regain control of their blood pressure, but doing nothing to resolve the story.

At times distressing, always edgy, Dheepan is a tense and absorbing film. What starts as a story about war and displacement becomes a tale of love and longing before as director Jacques Audiard (The Beat My Heart Skipped) makes it turn full circle and disrupts the estate.

Well worth catching Dheepan at the Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 22 April and Thursday 5 May.

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