Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Starring Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara
Within the closed walls of an abandoned building, Gregori (Vincent Cassel) has created his own utopia. He rules a harem of wives and a litter of adopted children with the charisma and control of a cult leader. When the oldest child, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), begins to challenge the teachings of his adopted father, a conflict develops – a conflict that is further heightened by both the secret nature of Gregori’s family, and the deadly means both are capable of employing to protect it.
Partisan uses its enclosed environment to great effect, giving us minimal information about the outside world. The glimpses we do catch are full of Brutalist concrete architecture gone to seed, with the people that populate it worn but occasionally kind – far different than the sort Alexander has been dogmatically warned against. We have very little insight into this world other than it may be different than it has been portrayed by Gregori. The concentration of the film is in the other world created behind the walls of the compound, a world set up as an oasis dedicated to family, a world which operates with its own set of laws, and a world in which Gregori is king.
The whole film is such a carefully crafted piece on multiple levels. It gives its viewers just enough information to get by, but with enough depth to infer more about the characters and the world. This is a film that drip-feeds its audience information slowly, rewarding them for their patience with powerful storytelling and a richly evocative atmosphere that is immaculately shot. It is no wonder that Director of Photography Germain McMicking took out an award at Sundance for this work, finding such beauty in urban decay.
The relationship and growing conflict between Gregori and Alexander is key to Partisan, with both actors bearing the workload brilliantly. Vincent Cassel’s portrayal of Gregori is dripping in charisma, but with a deep sense of disquiet about it. He comes across with a likeable charm and gentle wisdom, but scratch the surface and there is blatant manipulation and a barely contained rage, guaranteeing that he must completely control a situation. When that is challenged, then there is a petulance that is almost childlike, but dangerous considering the lengths to which he is willing to go to. By contrast Jeremy Chabriel displays a quietness beyond his years. The young actor often dispalys the thousand yard stare of a combat veteran, but he is still capable of seeming innocent in his gleeful interactions with his mother (Florence Mezzara). It is the battle of wills between Cassel and Chabriel that we see the tension in Partisan, and it is phenomenal for such a young actor to manage his part in it so well.
First time director Ariel Klieman brings us a confronting and complex film. Simultaneously brutal and gorgeous, this is one that will haunt you.