Dheepan is an unusual story that mixes the immigrant experience with rogue military guerrilla war elements within an urban gang turf war environment, and it works. 

Dheepan, a former Tamil soldier has had enough of war after a lifetime of violence and killing, and just wants to fit in and start a new peaceful, quiet life. He’s a mild-mannered newly hired immigrant, learning to work as a building superintendent in a suburb of Paris. He also has some secret hidden talents. 

Trained to fight a guerrilla war in the jungle since childhood, against government military forces, destroying army bases in an effort to create their own separate homeland, Tamil soldiers have been fighting a civil war against the Sri Lankan government since 1983 to protect their citizens and culture from ethnic marginalization by the majority Sinhalese government. These dedicated soldiers were known as Tamil Tigers. 

When their leader was killed in Jaffna, the government army wiped out many Tamil citizens living in the North of Sri Lanka in violation of international human rights laws. Many escaped to India, Canada and elsewhere in Europe.

Beginning at the end of this long brutal civil war, Dheepan follows one Tamil warrior as he tries to settle into a housing block community outside of Paris, France. After picking up a young Tamil woman and a girl who both lost their families in the final days of the war, they pass themselves off to the French Immigration officials as a family fleeing the civil war chaos of Sri Lanka.

What seems immediately obvious to the audience is unknown to the newly arrived refugees who believe they are living in a normal apartment community with normal, if poor French citizens. We quickly realize that they are in fact living in the middle of a drug gang community where there is an imminent threat of turf war.

Our new refugee family tries to fit in as best they can while also getting to know each other for the first time. It’s difficult to say the least. Not only are they dealing with culture shock in a strange new country, but they also grieve for their lost families while trying to start a new life with total strangers. 

The story grapples with the personal issues of the three main characters as they go about their daily struggle to set up a household, find work and learn the new language. As they eventually gain the trust of the locals, this new family begins to feel some hope and start
to grow more intimate with each other.

But when the inevitable power struggle breaks out, threatening to destroy the safety of their precarious family unit, Dheepan’s guerrilla tiger training kicks in and he’s forced to fight the only way he know how to defend his new family from harm.

The climax is bloody and somewhat reminiscent of the climax in Taxi Driver (1976), as Dheepan is again caught in the middle of a violent war. Deciding he cannot stand by while his Tamil girlfriend is in danger, he surprises everyone by taking matters into his own hands with brutal and violent consequences.

Winner of the Palme D’Or prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, Dheepan is a powerful and personal story of the immigrant experience in Europe that shines a harsh light on the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.


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