Partisan (2015)

Partisan (2015)
  • Time: 98 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Ariel Kleiman
  • Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara


Alexander, a boy who has been raised in a sequestered commune, finds that his increasing unwillingness to fall in line puts him on a collision course with Gregori, the society’s charismatic and domineering leader.

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  • It’s not quite a wasteland, the landscape we see in the opening moments of writer-director Ariel Kleiman’s debut feature, Partisan. There is a sense of desolation and decay, a spiritual rot emphasised by the dusty grays that dominate the film’s visual palette.

    We see a man, whom we later learned is named Gregori (Vincent Cassel), carrying a large wooden home to his home, whose bareness is broken up by the sparse furnishings and clusters of miscellany such as the gathering of tea cups in one corner. Gregori is then shown in a hospital, approaching a woman (Florence Mezzara) lying on a hospital bed. “Do you mind if I sit here a moment?” he asks before plucking a flower from his lapel and dropping it in a glass on her bedside table. “What a beautiful little man,” he says of her newborn. And so it begins.

    Eleven years later, baby Alexander has grown into a clear-eyed young boy (Jeremy Chabriel, making an impressive debut), the eldest child in the sanctuary that Gregori has created. There are other woman and other children there – it’s strongly suggested that they have sought shelter to escape various forms of abuse. They appear to be one big happy family in this kingdom of concrete walls and padlocked gates over which Gregori presides. It seems harmless enough – the children are rewarded for their hard work and good behaviour with gold stars and karaoke nights; they play paintball and shoot at coloured balloons. It’s disturbing when one young boy analyses his approach and execution of a paintball kill, and even more unsettling when Alexander and another child venture outside to a garage and shoot a man at point blank range.

    Gregori has fashioned a society in which he trains children to be assassins and in which he and he alone lays down the rules. There is no denying his affection for his wards, but there is also no escaping this man’s intolerance for disobedience and independent thinking. The narrative conflict derives from Alexander’s gradual awakening to the reality of his situation and the dissolution of his idolisation of Gregori. “It’s important to cherish and protect the things you love and destroy anyone who tries to do them harm,” Gregori tells Alexander as a means of warning him to the dangers that lurk in the outside world, and Alexander takes those words very much to heart.

    Inspired by an article about Colombian child killings, Kleiman and co-writer Sarah Cyngler have crafted a chilling portrait of the destructive powers of persuasion and the misguided ideologies that often stem from the best of intentions. Partisan raises many questions – not only in the themes it sows, but also in simpler queries like what has gone on in the outside world that caused Gregori to build his compound, how did he convince the women to come with him, are the women fully aware of what the children are made to do – but offers few answers. Partisan prefers to infer – one has only to look to the ending as evidence of this – and that renders the film more of a mood piece than a forceful socio-political commentary. This is not necessarily a bad thing as Kleiman fully conveys the complexities of his premise with a clarity and confidence that belies his 30 years.

    Cassel is characteristically magnetic. One can’t help but admire Gregori for his initiative even if one is gradually repelled by his actions. The most remarkable aspect of Cassel’s insinuating portrayal may be the darkly comic manner in which Gregori maintains his composure when his authority is challenged by the children. One can sense that he is a breath away from boiling point, and Cassel does well in measuring the degrees of Gregori’s benevolent malevolence.

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