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PARTISAN Ariel Kleiman

Partisan
Partisan

After a handful of well-received short films, Australian director Ariel Kleiman makes the leap to feature filmmaking with Partisan, a bleak, somewhat surreal story about a young boy, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) and his stepfather, Gregori (Vincent Cassel), who has trained the boy as an assassin.

“The spark was an article that we read in the New York Times,”  Kleiman recalls. “A feature article about kids in Colombia called ‘Sicarios,’ and they’ve basically been convinced by these drug lords to kill people for money. the article had this really intimate access to the these kids. the things that struck me and really disturbed me is how innocent these kids were and how little connection they had to what they were doing and the ramifications of what they were doing. They even had a sense of pride in achieving these tasks and also getting paid for them and providing for their single mothers.”

From that seed grew a strange, measured story of a cult-like family of young killers, wilfully sequestered from what appears to be a sparsely populated, almost apocalyptic urban landscape.

“I guess from that really early spark I knew that I wanted to set the film in an impressionistic world – to tell it more vas a myth and as a fable. It didn’t feel right to set the film in Australia: I wanted to set the film nowhere specific, in a nowhere land and inhabited by a cast of characters with all sorts of accents and ethnicities. That was the plan.

“The unique thing about Partisan is that it’s so secluded and it’s so much told from the boy’s perspective – the main character, Alexander. So when we go outside we experience the outside world from his perspective, and it’s obviously been described to him as a pretty horrible place.”

Interestingly, Kleiman’s film eschews painting Cassel’s character as an outright villain, instead framing him as a fatherly, sympathetic figure. “He commits some horrible acts in the movie, Gregori, and he has some pretty dark beliefs, but on the other hand, the way we wrote him, a lot of his motivations are quite paternal. Vincent really reacted to that in the script – he kind of noticed that and, collectively, we liked the idea of portraying him as much as possible as a dad – obviously a very flawed guy with a very skewed view on the world, but a lot of his motivations are from providing his kids with everything he never had. I actually love those moments of vulnerability and sadness he brings to the character – it made him much more interesting.”

Of course, the film would have foundered completely without a strong performance in the central role of the young assassin, which we get courtesy of newcomer Jeremy Chabriel. “We found him through a French school in Sydney and he’d never acted before. The first thing I noticed when I saw Jeremy was that he held himself with this kind of physical and mental strength. He’s very mature for his age, and obviously he’s got those amazing eyes that you’re kind of instantly drawn to. It’s his first acting role and I think he’s incredibly natural. By far the scariest part of the film was casting that character.”

TRAVIS JOHNSON

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