Directed by Ariel Kleiman
On the edge of a crumbling city, 11-year-old Alexander lives in a sequestered commune alongside other children, their mothers, and charismatic leader, Gregori. Gregori teaches the children how to raise livestock, grow vegetables, work as a community - and how to kill. With the birth of a new baby brother weighing on his mind, Alexander begins to question Gregori’s overpowering influence on the children and their training to become assassins. Threatened by his increasing unwillingness to fall in line, Gregori’s behavior turns erratic and adversarial toward the child he once considered a son. With the two set dangerously at odds and the commune’s way of life disintegrating, the residents fear a violent resolution is at hand.
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★★★★ review by - Jacob - on Letterboxd
Partisan is a film that doesn't give up its secrets at the outset. The story invites you in, ushering you into the closed and kitschy world inhabited by Grigori (Vincent Cassel) and his wards, including 11 year old, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), his heir apparent. The performances are beautifully quiet and restrained and only occasionally does the twang of an Australian accent slip in. Cassel has always been great at delivering those micro reactions and Chabriel is strong enough to stand as his equal.
Some reviews have latched onto the slow style of storytelling or ambiguity in the "nowhere world" as problematic areas but by the end of the film, most questions about the world have been answered and the characters are clearly enough defined that we understand their eventual trajectory.
Partisan is a stunning debut from Ariel Kleiman and for my money, the best Australian film since Cate Shortland's (also foreign) Lore; I never found it anything less than intriguing and beguiling.
★★★½ review by Dave Crewe on Letterboxd
The community at the centre of Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan is introduced with rare restraint and precision. After a short prologue, we are deposited into a secluded society, buried within sheltering slabs of through which thin rays of sunlight shine. The society (described in most reviews as a ‘cult’, though I’d argue that’s an overly simplistic categorisation) is composed of a dozen or so children, their mothers and patriarch Gregori (Vincent Cassel).
Gregori is a benevolent dictator, softly-spoken and casually charismatic. Kleiman, demonstrating remarkable craft and confidence directing his debut feature film, deliberately eschews the kind of mollycoddling over-exposition that many of his contemporaries rely upon (on more than one occasion we cut away from dialogue that would’ve clarified matters). But through careful visual storytelling we are given to understand that this community exists on the fringes of a decrepit urban ruin – either a post-Soviet city or a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We begin to realise that there is a sinister edge to their day-to-day life, as we learn that the children’s schooling includes gunplay alongside English and electronics.
Partisan is at its strongest as it unfolds its unique ecosystem; there’s an ethereal sense of enigma hanging over the proceedings that gradually – inevitably – evaporates. The film takes place over one year, bookended by the eleventh and twelfth birthday parties of Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), the oldest child in the community. As the year progresses, the narrative’s possibilities narrow, and ultimately focuses on the developing conflict between Alexander and Gregori.
The decision is understandable. It’s thoughtfully written and executed. Alexander’s faith in Gregori’s community is weakened after Alexander dabbles in capitalism – and chocolate – outside the wall, and these stresses are exacerbated by the introduction of a young outsider, Leo (Alex Balaganskiy). Leo is intelligent, artistic, flagrantly contrarian, and his opposition to Gregori leads Alexander inexorably down the same path. But while the story is well told, the sense of potential, the sense of exploration promised in the film’s earliest frames, has been snuffed out.
There’s an allegorical framework here, but a familiar one – that of life (and, perhaps, revolution) within a totalitarian society (I was reminded of Animal Farm on more than one occasion). We sidestep the emotional reality of how life in this society unfolds to consider a familiar and familial conflict – between a young man and his authoritarian father figure. I love the ambiguity in the specifics of the world – is it a post-apocalyptic dystopia, or simply a poverty-stricken country in the modern day? Is Gregori’s leadership based on religious ideology, a simple cult of personality …or something else? These questions do not require answers, but questions about the motivations of the women – or the lives of the children other than Alexander – sadly go unanswered.
Nonetheless, Partisan is a superlative debut feature. Kleiman demonstrates a real sense of how to compose meaningful shots that further the narrative, explore the characters and capture your attention without ever feeling showy. Simple symbols – children, chicken, chains – are woven through the film in a way that enriches without distracting. Equally impressive are the performances of Cassel – superb, deeply human – and, to an understandably lesser extent, Chabriel. The score – from Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never – is sublime, creating an insidious, unnerving mood and being beautiful besides. While Partisan never quite achieves its potential, it’s a good film that promises greatness from Kleiman in the future – I eagerly anticipate his follow-up.
★★★½ review by Nick Vass on Letterboxd
Vincent Cassel is excellent as a cult leader who has a community of women and children under his control. But beneath all of the pleasantry, devotion and obedience in his colourful makeshift system—there lies a darker agenda, his bottled-up implosion, which begins to crack when a child commits an act of defiance. This sets off 11-year-old Alexander (impressive newcomer Jeremy Chabriel) on a group of dangerous errands around the city and starts to question the values around him. Sometimes the film is a bit too comfortable in being a meditative mood piece when it should be kicking into profoundly dramatic gear. But for the most part, it's a confident debut from Australian director Ariel Kleiman. He's created an intimate and enigmatic work about observing human nature in its trapped walls.
★★★★ review by Romain Mereau on Letterboxd
Partisan is a striking debut from Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman. Set on the fringes of an unidentified city of derelict apartments and abandoned buildings, the story takes place in the protected community created by Gregori (Vincent Cassell). Taking in single mothers and their children into his 'kingdom' of safety, Gregori is father and husband to all within the walled paradise. But their sanctuary comes at a terrible cost.
What happens when a child learns that adults are fallible; that their parents are flawed human beings, capable of deceit? Partisan gives us this question, reflected in the precocious eyes of adolescent Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel). Beautifully filmed in Morning Star Estate, Victoria, the film captures a timeless energy. More than meets the eye.
★★★★ review by Grace on Letterboxd
Haunting and hypnotic. Awesome soundtrack. Great performances from Vincent Cassel and the kids. And it has one of my favorite scenes of the year.
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