The Boy and I have never seen a Bollywood movie, and despite the very Indian title, Dheepan is actually a French film, not an Indian one, directed by Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet). The eponymous Dheepan is a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, who sought to carve a Tamil nation out of eastern Sri Lanka, who were “finally” put down in 2009. This movie begins some unspecified but not too distant time after the end of the war, as Dheepan desperately flees the little island for France, using a woman and little girl who pretend to be his wife and daughter.
The “wife”, Yalini, wants to go to England. But refugees can’t be choosers—well, historically, anyway, they can now, apparently—and the end up in the crappiest drug-infested suburb of a French city, which is still about a million times better than Sri Lanka, even if the government isn’t trying to track you down and kill you. Dheepan gets a job as a caretaker of the slum while Yalini ends up cooking and cleaning for a vacant ex-soldier, whose primary purpose seems to be being a sort of front for the local drug kingpin.
It’s not exactly Green Card, but neither is it a cri de coeur about pure and helpless refugees. Audiard gives us a tale of very flawed people, very self-involved, who are not quick to form a family, even for the sake of a ruse, the failure of which could land them back in Sri Lanka. (Well, if France is anything like America, probably not, but they don’t know that.) At the same time, we do understand: Foreigners, who don’t speak the language (Yalini can speak English), and with a “daughter” who is expected to sit down in a French school and learn whatever it is French people learn.
They all have their moments of awfulness. And at times when you might think they’ve formed a bond, well, they might just surprise you by making a bolt for wherever, especially when the slums turn out to be the turf for a drug war. (And isn’t it telling how similar things are to the war torn country they left behind?)
The acting is quite good: All three principles are new to showbiz, as far as IMDB knows, but you wouldn’t know it. One suspects they may have a common culture behind them, too, as they have a certain chemistry which feels reel but almost businesslike, very much “strangers in a strange land”. Vincent Rottiers (Mood Indigo) was also very good as the drug lord.
Ultimately, you care about the characters, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen to them until the very end, which is a pretty gripping bit of action. Some people, in fact, argue that the final scene is a dream sequence, and we don’t really find out what happens (but I think the director has contradicted this). But, of course, if the filmmaker has convinced you that it matters, he’s done his job.
We had pretty much gone in blind, as reviews hadn’t emerged, but we were pleased. The Boy was quite impressed.