Partisan (2015) – Vincent Cassel is riveting in this solid debut from Australian director Ariel Kleiman

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In Partisan, Vincent Cassel plays Gregori, an enigmatic figure overseeing a secluded commune placed on an undisclosed, near desolate-looking landscape. The place is populated by women and small children and Gregori is the only grown up male among them. At the beginning of the film, we see him at a hospital visiting a woman who has just delivered a baby. He has been waiting for that baby and he is pleased to see the mother and child doing well. The mother and child are brought to this commune. The film moves forward many years and we see this child, now named Alexander, as a 11-yr old boy. It’s not immediately clear to us if Gregori is the father to all these children or of he is just a “father figure” to them. He cares about them, plays with them and celebrates their birthdays.

One day, the children see him bring another woman and child from the outside world, just like Alexander and his mother. In a scene that looks like a group therapy session between Gregori and all his “wives”, he tells them about how this woman felt about her life before he brought her here. She felt like a fish that has been taken out of water and put on the cutting board, jumping up and down desperately trying to breathe and waiting for someone to put her out of her misery. Gregori is an all-round guardian and educator for these children. It’s only a while later that we see what this place really is: a breeding ground for child assassins. We later see Alexander dispassionately carrying out his first hit. Gregori arranges for a celebration later and makes Alexander the new “pop star”.

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Later, Gregori has a discussion with Alexander about the toys he found in his backpack. Gregori gives him a small speech about the dangers of being curious. “It’s the tricky thing out there”, he says, and recalls a childhood memory of his where he played with his mother’s nice smelling perfume and kept it with him after his mother died so that he can have something to remember her by. He later learned about the flammable nature
of the perfume and he learnt it the hard way that something so wonderful can also bring you so much pain. Gregori also tells him about the importance of cherishing the life you have with the ones you love and protecting them from all the evils of this world. And yet, you wonder why he would train these kids and send them out to the outside world to kill people.

Where is the funding coming from? Who is Gregori working for? These questions are never answered. Once in a while, a man comes in with money and new assignments for the boys.  As I was watching this film, I was reminded of some of the similarities it has to George Orwell’s 1984. Gregori doesn’t encourage independent thought and anyone who shows a slight sign of deviating from his conditioning is punished, although not severly. He is almost like Big Brother. After seeing a woman slaughter a chicken, one of the male kids gets upset and shuts himself inside the cage to prevent any harm from coming to the rest of the bunch. This displeases Gregori and orders everyone to stop all forms of
communication with this kid as punishment. No one is allowed to question Gregori’s methods. The story maybe about a breeding ground for child assassins (inspired by Colombian child assassins, apparently) but it’s much more than that.

I think the film is simply about parenthood and the parents’ attempts to shove their ideals, thoughts and beliefs down the throats of their children. This is very evident in the scene where Gregori shoves chicken meat into Alexander’s mouth when he refuses to eat it, obviously upset and awakened by the actions of this other kid. I guess it’s also about human nature in general. Are we born good or evil? Or are we influenced by our parents and the circumstances that we are brought up in? This is Vincent Cassel’s best work in a long time. He is present in nearly every scene and is quite scary in some of them. If some of his recent misfires have made you forgotten how good an actor he is, this will remind you of it. All the child actors have put in convincing performances. Overall, this film is a little hard to describe as there is a fair amount of ambiguity present right from the first frame through the last. This is a solid debut from Australian director Ariel Kleiman and I’ll be certainly looking forward to his upcoming films.

 

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