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Antonythasan Jesuthasan as Dheepan

4 good reasons to see “Dheepan”, by Jacques Audiard

By Manon Variol

Dheepan is a film about a sadly topical subject: three Sri Lankan refugees who don't know each other are on their way to France to build a new life. The French director Jacques Audiard is back with his seventh feature, showing the culture shock migrants must overcome when they arrive in Europe. It is a powerful war film and love story with non-professional but incredible actors.
Here are 4 good reasons to go and see Dheepan. In UK cinemas from 8th April.

This is a film by Jacques Audiard


This may not be Audiard’s best film, but it really deserves to be seen. With the story of three Sri Lankan refugees fleeing from civil war, Dheepan shows the French director’s commitment to constantly highlight different aspects of life at the margins. With the trauma of a double amputee in Rust and Bone (De Rouille et d’Os) and the struggle of a 19-year-old boy in prison in A Prophet, Jacques Audiard has already made films about topics which are usually little talked about in the media. With  Dheepan, he deals with a sadly topical subject, filming a parts of the life of migrants which is not well known: how they get on in a society in which everything is new to them and how they have to learn a new language to make a living. Several days before the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, Jacques Audiard admitted the main goal of Dheepan was not to film a documentary about sensitive neighbourhoods or civil war, he just wanted to tell a strong story. “Before starting Dheepan, I could not even locate Sri Lanka on a map” the director said. “It was an insane project and I liked it”.

Dheepan received the Palme d’Or at Cannes Festival

The Palme d'Or
The Palme d'Or

The film was nominated in 9 different categories at the Cannes Festival in 2015 (best director, best actor for Antonythasan Jesuthasan) and was awarded for the most prestigious prize: the Palme d’Or. Like Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver in 1976 and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist in 2002, Dheepan received this prize, considered as one of the most important awards of the cinema industry. Since its creation in 1955, Jacques Audiard is the tenth French director to have received the Palme d’Or. 


According to the jurors Guillermo del Toro and Rossy de Palma, Dheepan “is real cinema and we feel deeply concerned by what’s happening in the Mediterranean.” The director convinced the jury with a straightforward but effective film, which makes us part of the characters’ lives. Audiard chose to keep the dialogues in Tamil, except when Dheepan, Yalini and Illayaal try to learn French. The film is critical of the migrants’ living conditions but avoids pathos by remaining faithful to reality. After the ceremony, Jacques Audiard said he hopes Cannes will “help the situation” for the refugees in Europe. He started writing the film 5 years ago, when the migrants crisis “wasn’t so appalling” but he claimed it is “important to reflect” the situation. 

Antonythasan Jesuthasan and Claudine Vinasithamby in Dheepan
Antonythasan Jesuthasan and Claudine Vinasithamby in Dheepan

The actors’ performances are breathtaking

For his seventh feature, Jacques Audiard bet on a cast of little-known actors, and it was a bet which paid off! Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby are fascinating in the roles of the three refugees. As they don’t overplay and express emotions naturally, you feel empathy for these migrants lying to the French government to build a new life and trying to forget their own country. Claudine, 11 years old, is particularly breathtaking in her first role and acts as if she has been doing it all her life. Antonythasan Jesuthasan, as Dheepan, was not chosen randomly : he knows more than anyone how traumatising civil war can be. He was recruited to fight for the Liberation Tigers of Sri Lanka when he was 16, and left three years later for Thailand, then for France. Jacques Audiard has therefore carefully selected the actors playing the Sri Lankan refugees to deliver a realistic film. This is a winning team!

You will know more about the migrants’ situation

If you only listen to the media, you will not know a lot about how refugees live once they are in Europe. Jacques Audiard has brought to light the difficulty of adapting to a new country. Dheepan, Yalini and Illayaal did not know each other before leaving their country. They have fled from the bullets and found themselves in a violent suburb, reliving the traumas of Sri Lanka. They try, after all, to survive together as a family and to be accepted by the society. Learning another language, trying to be understood by others and finding a job is a part of their new daily life.

In brief, Dheepan is a moving film that puts the issues into perspective. In cinemas April 8. All the screenings here


Other French films to watch on the same subject: The Pirogue by Moussa Touré and Eden is West (Eden à l’Ouest) by Costa-Gavras.


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