REVIEW: Dheepan

22 05 2017

Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” tells an extraordinary tale rather ordinarily. The titular name does not technically refer to the protagonist but rather a man whose identity he must assume in order to flee Sri Lanka. Dheepan must enter France with the passport of a deceased man, along with a fake wife and daughter, in order to get past the country’s vetting. He’s willing to work hard for the future, but that future would likely not be possible if they knew his past involvement in the wars of his native country.

Most of the film takes place in their shanty housing in the outskirts of Paris, where the makeshift family attempts to survive in their new environment. The best moments of “Dheepan” take place when Audiard’s camera catches the moments of realness behind their adopted guises. It’s here we get the whole of the immigrant experience summed up in a glance. We can see the gratitude for a new country to take them in and the yearning for a country where they could no longer stay. We notice the desire for normalcy coupled with the constant fear of disapproving neighbors watching their every move with suspicion.

Where the film starts to sputter is when Dheepan gets drawn into the local drug and gang violence of his area. We know this story of hard choices in ignored, underprivileged areas outside the purview of urban hubs. Even with a topical, political spin, the back half of “Dheepan” lands with a thud. It’s not enough to blow all the goodwill from Audiard’s perceptive look at the perils of entry into France’s hostile environment. But it comes perilously close. B-