Introduced shouldering enormous beams à la Jesus Christ, Gregori (Vincent Cassel) proves a self-fashioned messiah of a murderous order in Partisan, Ariel Kleiman’s alternately acute and oblique account of a cult located on the fringe of an unnamed modern city.
In this commune, which is populated exclusively by women and children, Gregori functions as a benevolent sage, albeit one who trains his kids not only to study and tend crops, but also to work as assassins, killing his mysterious targets in the outside world. Eleven-year-old Alexander (a blank Jeremy Chabriel) is his prize acolyte, at least until the boy’s rebellious curiosity (and an incident with another adolescent resident) forces him to question Gregori’s authority.
Kleiman’s methodical direction creates an unnerving sense of unease that’s amplified by the script’s deliberate, teasing delivery of key narrative details. That initial lack of specificity suggests tantalizing mystery, but it eventually proves to be a hindrance to the film’s study of groupthink sect dynamics and the ways in which systems of control are maintained and break down.
Cassel is never less than transfixing as a savior with a semi-sinister smile, but Partisan‘s lack of interest in providing necessary context — especially about the ill-defined larger society that Gregori rejects — leaves it operating on a hazy psychological level.
Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Well Go USA
Opens October 2, Village East Cinema