Dheepan (2016)

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Dheepan is written and directed by Jacques Audiard, who previously directed the overly melodramatic but superbly acted Rust & Bone and before that, the searing crime-drama, A Prophet. His latest film which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year is based partly on the life experiences of Jesuthasan Antonythasan, a former child soldier with the Sri Lankan militant group of Tamil Tigers, who fled his country in the late 1980s and eventually made his way to France, where he became an acclaimed playwright, essayist and novelist.

In the film, Antonythasan plays Dheepan, a Tamil Tiger forced out of Sri Lanka and settled by the French government in one of the run-down Parisian housing-projects as an asylum-seeker. He claims to be married to Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and to have a daughter (Claudine Vinasithamby), but this turns out to be a convenient lie, guaranteeing them all a place to live. Dheepan gets a job as a janitor, responsible for cleaning most of the apartments on the estate. Despite his best attempts to fit in, the experience of civil war proves too traumatic for him and when he sees evil in the drug dealers who run the project, he finds himself determined to take action.


While Dheepan doesn’t quite rise up to the level of Audiard’s previous two films, it is without doubt an admirable effort and a compelling character study, and at most times I was able to appreciate it for that. One thing about this film that really works are the performances. Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby, who play Dheepan’s wife and daughter are quite good but I suppose its Jesuthasan Antonythasan’s commanding and naturalistic screen-presence as the titular character that is most engaging to watch. I also think this is a far more grounded film as compared to A Prophet and Rust & Bone and serves as a great canvas to display Audiard’s talent for directing the smaller and more subtle scenes.

What doesn’t however work for this film, however is that it tends to get quite meandering as the run-time progresses. It isn’t as tightly constructed as you would hope for it to be, even though it clocks at a mere 107 minutes and towards the latter half, I think, it really starts to lose steam, which is signified by the somewhat desperate and slap-dash final act. There are elements of the film that border both Taxi Driver and Death Wish, but are never quite able to recreate the same profound effect, both those films were able to.

dheepan review

I think it’s quite obvious that the film is a social commentary on immigration in France and perhaps one on war itself, but on a personal level I wasn’t always able to connect with what this film was trying to say and I don’t think Audiard did a great job to keep me compelled throughout.

All in all, I think Dheepan is an admirable effort. There is a lot to admire in the film, especially the performances and the film has great emotional depth as well, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work and towards the latter half in particular, the film really tends to get quite meandering which is why I couldn’t find myself liking this film as much as I hoped I would.




11 responses to “Dheepan (2016)

  1. Interesting. I’d have thought it woulda got a higher score. Sounds interesting though, I’m gonna go see it tonight as a part of a French film festival. Is this film already released in your country??


    • I think you should see for yourself adn make up your mind. Its not bad by any standards but found myself a little disappointed by it.
      Yeah, it released here recently, along with Son 0f Saul, which I plan to see very soon as well.


      • Saw it last night, can see your issues, my main issue was the editing. I often had no idea what Dheepan was doing. The final scene also should have been chopped but that’s just me


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  3. I tend to agree with a lot of what you said. I didn’t find the film to be as consistently engaging as I hoped it would be and it struck me as a little dry too. But I was a fan of the latter half and how the tempo of the film changed drastically. But I didn’t feel it resulted in that much of a pay-off. The Death Wish and Taxi Driver comparisons are warranted.


    • Exactly. And the message didnt really strike me either.
      Havent seen alot of the films that were up for the Palme d’Or but still think it didnt deserve to win.


      • Plan to see it this weekend. Have been looking forward to seeing it since I heard the buzz at Cannes. But I guess the thing with these festivals is that the best film often does not win coz its really just based on what the jury likes most, which isnt necassarily the best


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