Partisan

June 6, 2015
Vincent Cassel in 'Partisan' (2015)
Vincent Cassel in 'Partisan' (2015)

With a brutal civil war, followed by three decades of dictatorial rule, there’s no denying Spain’s sufferings, but nowadays the Spaniards are making great movies. I wonder if Australian cinema, conversely, is showing the symptoms of decades of peace and prosperity. Compared to the wars and political upheavals that have beset other countries, Australia has had a pretty soft time. Perhaps this is one reason why our recent cinema has been so unrelentingly bleak. In troubled times art looks for positives, in stable eras it turns to the dark side.

And so it is with Partisan, the latest in an seemingly endless line of Australian films by first-time directors that provide a grim little slice of drama, deficient in plot development, characterisation, atmosphere and most of the other elements one looks for in a successful production.

Ariel Kleiman’s debut feature is set in a kind of geographical limbo – actually Georgia – with no suggestion that this is the past, present or future. We are introduced to Gregori, (obligatory overseas star, Vincent Cassel), the charismatic leader of a small, closed, cultish community in which he is the only adult male. Gregori has taken on the role of paterfamilias – husband, father and protector to all these vulnerable beings.

As part of his paternal care he teaches them to use guns, and occasionally venture into the nearby city on an assassination mission. The idea came from reading an article about Colombia, where children are employed in this manner by crime gangs. It would’ve been a better idea if the film had been set in Colombia, with clearly defined motives for the murders.

The story, minimal as it is, concerns the gradual awakening and rebellion of one boy, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), but everything seems to happen in slow motion. Indeed, the entire film feels like a short that has been stretched out to feature length. Cassel, whose pay check probably took up most of the budget, is possibly the only professional actor in the film, and he sounds very stagey pronouncing his lines in English.

I hope Ariel Kleiman takes the opportunity to view Marshland, if only to see how a film benefits from an identifiable sense of place. Movies set in an abstract nowhere-ville have a tendency to go nowhere at the box office.

Partisan
Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Written by Sarah Cyngler & Ariel Kleiman
Starring Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara, Anastasia Prystay
Australia, rated MA 15+, 98 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 6th June, 2015.