Three strangers come together during the waning days of the Sri Lankan civil war and pretend to be a family, in order to seek asylum and use it as a ticket to France. The man, the titular Dheepan, is an ex-Tamil Tiger militant who watched his family be killed but is now ready to move on, leaving all of the violence in the past, where it belongs.

Dheepan initially works on the streets at night, selling cheap goods and toys in broken English and French to whoever might want to buy, constantly watchful of policemen who may be on the lookout for illegal migrants such as him. Tired of avoiding the law, he moves to another suburb further away and is hired in a housing compound as a guard. His ‘wife’ becomes a caretaker for a sick elderly man and their ‘daughter’ starts the difficult journey of learning French in school and trying to fit in. All of this has a natural rhythm in the way it unfolds because conventional plot has no place here. What it does have in abundance are real people we are able to relate to and an awareness of the social challenges of a situation like this.

Director Jacques Audiard is no stranger to telling stories of immigrants and minorities in France, struggling to assimilate and become part of the social fabric. He first explored these themes in the brilliant A Prophet, and also it’s raw follow-up Rust and Bone, but here finds a perfect balance of visual tone, intense performances and lyrical storytelling. His fascination with misplaced individuals struggling to find their identity reaches its pinnacle in both this film and it’s eponymous character.

Audiard’s direction is observant, almost a form of realism, seemingly inspired by the Dardenne brothers, but also the likes of Ken Loach. The tightly cropped framing brings intimacy and never seems to miss a beat, aiding in the progression of the measured pacing. When the ‘family’ first moves into their new neighbourhood, they pick up, as do we, that it is shady and that something is amiss. The entire film is therefore a sustained build-up to the unexpected, almost jarring third act, but if you are perceptive and open to the ideas that the director and his writers share, you will find it a natural development of the story’s flow.

The sign of any films greatness is in making you care and relate to what you see. I was curious at the start of Dheepan, became more interested as it proceeded and finally found myself caring immensely about what happened to these three wonderful people who circumstances had brought together. Ultimately the films real beauty is in showing us the gradual change that all of them go through, transforming, as we watch, from pretending to be a family to actually becoming one.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com