Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) is like any other kid: playful, curious and naive. He is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world through the eyes of his father, Gregori (Vincent Cassel). As Alexander begins to think for himself, creeping fears take shape and Gregori's idyllic world unravels.
Review by Louise Keller:
It is the gentle, gradual way in which first time director Ariel Kleiman allows his revelations to take place that makes Partisan so shocking. Innocence and corruption are the themes of this disturbing thriller, in which a young boy questions the rules under which he has been raised. Crucial to the exposition is Vincent Cassel's ability to effectively portray a convincing duality, where charm turns into menace with a tiny shift of his eyes. Cassel has an edgy screen presence, able to unsettle us at any moment.
What a beautiful little man, Gregori (Cassel) states when he first meets newborn baby Alexander in the hospital with his mother Susanna (Florence Mezzara). The bruise on her lip does not escape our attention. Abandoned, abused women with babies are Gregori's target. We are then taken into Gregori's world - where he lives not only with Alexander and Susanna but with other single mothers and their young children. Rules are important, Gregori says and from the outset, it is clear that he is a man with strong views and clear objectives. We soon observe the everyday workings of life behind the locked gates. Obedience and achievement are highly praised and rewarded.
The ambience of life at the commune is a peaceful harmonious one as the children play and are educated, albeit in unusual things. Cultivating vegetables, learning about electrical circuits and shooting specific coloured balloons are among the daily tasks. Puzzling is the karaoke prize which the top students are awarded - this is no ordinary karaoke. Gregori's soft spot for the bright Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) is apparent, although Gregori identifies an element of 'untrustworthiness' when the boy, who has just turned 11, shows initiative. In his debut acting role, Chabriel (French-born, living in Sydney) is extraordinary, delivering an unselfconscious and intuitive performance, showing the ever-developing curiosity with which Alexander finds himself. It's a crucial piece of casting as the film relies on the changing relationship between Alexander and Gregori.
As the story develops, we learn more about Gregori's relationships: with the women and the children. The 'assignments' that Alexander is given, when he takes his blue backpack and blue ear-plugs happen so inoffensively that it takes a minute for the reality of his actions to sink in. We are horrified by the matter-of-fact way in which he conducts himself after having identified his target, removed a gun from his backpack, pulled the trigger before reverting to his everyday life. Catalyst for the change in Alexander's perceptions is the arrival of a new boy who dares to question Gregori's orders. It all happens slowly and it is through Alexander's eyes that our perceptions of Gregori change.
Shot in Melbourne and Georgia in Eastern Europe with actors of multi-cultural backgrounds, the film has an Eastern Europe sensibility. The locations and settings are bleak; it feels as though we are removed from modern affluent society.
The final reel is chilling indeed, made especially effective by Kleiman's decision to reveal as little as possible until the very last minute. The devastating last scene will haunt you for days. It is ironic that subtlety is the key to the power of the film, when its themes are anything but. Kleiman's 2010 short Deeper Than Yesterday won many awards, including the Sydney Film Festival's 2010 Rouben Mamoulian Prize and Sundance's 2011 International Short Film Making Award.
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CAST: Vincent Cassel, Nigel Barber, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara, Timothy Styles
PRODUCER: Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw
DIRECTOR: Ariel Kleiman
SCRIPT: Ariel Kleiman, Sarah Cyngler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Germain McMicking
EDITOR: Jack Hutchings, Chris Wyatt
MUSIC: Daniel Lopatin
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sarah Cyngier, Steven Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 28, 2015