Following the lives of three Tamil refugees, Dheepan vividly illustrates the ravages of war and the hardships of the immigrant struggle. It opens Friday at the Cedar Lee.
The film commences in Sri Lanka where three strangers assume the identity of a family in order to voyage to France. In the hopes of fleeing war and starting a new and better life, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and their "daughter" Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) settle in a suburb of Paris where they begin a different, perhaps harder, struggle: the struggle of being strangers in a new land.
Through the power of the lens, we are able to see France as each of the characters sees it. We follow Dheepan in his role as caretaker of the grounds they live on; his struggle to understand and speak French is no doubt his biggest road block, but Yalini's journey is the most interesting to watch. You would think that Dheepan would be the protagonist of the film, given that the film is named after him, but Yalini is the most visible protagonist.
We see her struggle to care for Illayaal while also fulfilling her role as a handicapped man's housekeeper. She goes from knowing no French to being able to understand most of it. From lashing out and caring very little for Illayaal, she ends up loving and caring for her like her own. As for her relationship with Dheepan, that is also fascinating to see. It blossoms from strictly business into an organic relationship that only grows as they continue to find and discover themselves in a new, unfamiliar world.
Lacking what most would consider a clear plotline, Dheepan is unusual in that it contains about five distinct "chapters," each with their own rise, climax and fall that are marked by the dissolution of light. When the light fades into near darkness, the film transitions into a new phase in each character's development. With each character's new phase comes heart-wrenching, emotionally ridden scenes. With every chapter that passes, you feel a growing connection to the characters. You feel their pain, you feel their struggle. You see a new yet similar battleground unfolding in France like the one in Sri Lanka; you root for them, you pray for them. You feel for them.