It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Dheepan," the controversial 2015 Palme d'Or winner, was written and directed by Jacques Audiard, whose films often focus on the forgotten and marginalized, the criminal, the displaced, characters who try to move out of a permanent underclass into the alienating mainstream of French life. In "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," "A Prophet" "Rust and Bone" and now "Dheepan," the characters come from violent backgrounds, where they have done horrible things, and the plots involve searing acts of redemption or salvation. These films are akin to a phoenix rising from an inferno of destruction.
"Dheepan," featuring two extraordinary central performances, starts in the chaos of civil war in Sri Lanka and moves to another kind of chaos in a housing project in Le Pré-Saint-Gervais. When the film focuses on the everyday life of the makeshift family at its center, it is compelling and thought-provoking. "Dheepan" derails in its final sequences, becoming a revenge-thriller, and it's a disappointment. Overall, though, "Dheepan" is finely-drawn, beautifully shot and acted, featuring complex characters doing their best in no-win situations.
The film opens in a refugee camp in Sri Lanka, with people hustling in a panic to get out of the country. A man, a woman, and an orphan child pose as a family (using three passports found on dead bodies) in order to get tickets on the boat that will take them to a plane that will then take them to France. Sivadhasan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan), pretending to be "Dheepan" (the name on the passport) Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and the child Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) huddle on the getaway boat with the other refugees. The three do not know one another, but their fates are now tied together. They are father, mother, and child in the eyes of the world and the lie must be maintained. It is the only thing that will save them.
Once in France, intense disorientation ensues and this is where Audiard and his two main actors shine. "Dheepan" really lays out what it feels like, when already traumatized, to be thrust from the familiar into a newly traumatic situation, where people rattle off important information at you in a language you don't understand. Yalini and Dheepan spend a lot of time smiling and nodding as they are told what to do. Not knowing French isolates Dheepan and Yalini, although Illayaal, the child, knows a little French, and does her best to translate for her fake parents. The first hour of the film shows the struggle to just get through the day, never mind deal with ghosts from the past, or the fact that they are not, in fact, a family at all.