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Film review: Dheepan – Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner is a stunning immigrant drama

Riveting tale of Sri Lankans in France has echoes of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 11:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 12:11pm

When Dheepan won the much-coveted Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, it was something of a left-field choice from the jury. But there can be no denying the power of this tale of vigilante rage from French director Jacques Audiard, whose previous works include the much-heralded The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet and Rust and Bone.

A brief prologue in Sri Lanka sets the story as three strangers – a man, woman and child – are thrown together and escape the carnage of the civil war. Arriving in France, this trio cling to each other, desperate to make new lives in a world every bit as hostile as the one they left behind; yet this is no ordinary immigrant tale of hardships and struggle.

Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), the proxy patriarch and a former Tamil Tiger fighter, gets a job as caretaker of the bleak housing estate where they live; his “wife” Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) also takes on cooking and cleaning for an ailing resident. With their “child” Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) at school, Audiard carefully draws us into this surrogate family who seek normality, even intimacy, together.

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The film depicts evocatively life on the fringes of French society, where violence is never far away – not least when Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), leader of the local gang, returns from a stint in prison. The effect is galvanising on Dheepan, who ticks away like a time bomb as latent PTSD is triggered. Comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver are obvious but valid: the shocking finale will leave you stunned.

Dheepan opens on January 7