Monday, August 21, 2017

Do Not Trifle With a Tamil Tiger

"Deephan," film by Jacque Audiard, 2015

This is a Diaspora film.  This time the displaced ones are Tamils from Sri Lanka.  It starts after the 26-year guerilla campaign in Sri Lanka has been won by the majority ethnic Sinahalese government in 2009.  This occurs after a mass slaughter of  the ethnic Tamil minority.  Deephan / Sidvahasan is a former Tamil Tiger whose wife and children have been killed.  His unit is decimated and he's forced into a refugee camp.  To get out of the camp, he gets the passport of a dead man, finds an unattached woman, Yalini, who finds an orphan girl, Illayaal, and they claim to be a real family.  They are allowed passage to France, where he becomes the caretaker of a large apartment building in one of the working-class ring suburbs of Paris, which are full of immigrants from various countries.

Deephan - Street Peddler & Maintenance Man & ...
The apartment blocks are dominated by armed criminals, mostly drug-dealers.  They are Arab, African, French.  But they let Deephan quietly do his efficient work on the buildings - fixing, cleaning, maintenance.  His alleged daughter Illayaal goes to a nearby school and works on learning French.  His alleged wife Yalini, who has a bad temper, sits around until he convinces her to work for a paralyzed man in one of the buildings, Mr. Habib.   She is an excellent cook but gets a crush on Mr. Habib's son, who is a criminal wearing an ankle monitor.

They face all the problems of immigrants in a totally new place.   Language is a main burden, though Illayaal begins learning French quite well.  Deepan has trouble understanding and fitting in with the cultural customs, like French humor.  Illayaal tries to make friends with school children who are hostile to strangers.  Earning a living is a big hurdle, though the French find Deephan and then Yalini a job quickly and they pay far more than in Sri Lanka.  Deepan & Yalini both try to escape their past, which can be difficult.  The Tamil guerilla leadership in Paris want Deephan to continue working for the cause, but he can't face it anymore.  They have to lie to the authorities about their background, as Deephan has to hide being a former Tamil Tiger.  And keeping their odd 'family' together - probably the hardest.  In the final case, putting up with violence that reminds them too much of Sri Lanka, as especially Yalini goes into panic mode immediately.

The thugs in the buildings have a shootout one day and Yalini loses it and runs to the train station, abandoning Deephan and Illayaal to get to London, where she has a cousin.  Deephan forces her back to the apartment, as he is beginning to feel that they are a real family.  Her leaving might also endanger their immigrant status.   From then on, Deephan puts his former military skills to use in combating the criminal element, who have not dealt with a guerilla soldier before - dark and inconspicuous as he is.

The film has an unrealistic but very happy ending.  Part of it is that the artificially constructed family becomes a real family by living through this misery. This film puts you in the position of being in immigrant, which is its main strength.  It again reflects the massive dislocations that primitive capitalist ethnic politics and poverty bring to society.   

Other reviews on Diaspora issues:  "Lipstick Jihad." 

Red Frog
August 21, 2017

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