Drama explores plight of Parisian immigrants

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

3 out of 5

Beating heavyweights like Son of Sam, Carol and The Lobster, Dheepan won the 2015 Palme d’Or at Cannes by tackling the one issue that keeps Europe awake at night: immigration.

The title character is a Tamil Tiger who sees his death as inevitable unless he flees Sri Lanka. An opportunity to immigrate to France as a refugee materializes, albeit with one caveat: to fool the authorities, Dheepan must present himself as a family man.

The plan works, but Dheepan is saddled with a feisty, much younger wife and a nine-year-old orphan he is reluctant to take responsibility for. That adjustment becomes the least of his problems, though, when the housing project he’s working at as a caretaker is overrun by gangs and his violent past comes back to haunt him.

Director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet) doesn’t particularly care for the legitimacy of the circumstances that brought Dheepan and his “family” to France. He prefers to focus on the infinite number of factors that shape the immigrant experience, and how empathy is the only reaction able to cut through the clutter.

While gritty and down-to-earth, Dheepan never connects with the audience. Of the two lead characters, Dheepan’s wife is far more sympathetic and driven, and one can’t help rooting for her.

This relatively gentle immigrant drama changes gears in the last quarter to become a Straw Dogs­-style action flick. The tone shift, while foreseeable, misses the mark by some distance. For a movie so focused on characters fighting to preserve their humanity, to end things so violently sends the wrong message.