Movie review of “Partisan”: This intriguing but dissatisfying fantasy concerns a cult living on the outskirts of a decrepit city, a commune where children are trained to assassinate others. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
Ambiguity proves the undoing of a potentially interesting story in “Partisan,” the first feature by Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman.
Set in an unspecified place and time, largely beyond the outer limits of a decrepit city, the dystopian tale finds a commune leader, Gregori (Vincent Cassel), running a school for little assassins. The self-sufficient community is made up of seemingly fatherless children whose vulnerable mothers were talked into joining the tribe.
While the women handle domestic chores, Gregori teaches the kids (there are perhaps 15 to 20 of them, of varying ages) such random subjects as winter gardening and shooting targets. He emphasizes strict adherence to communal rules — when one boy gives his mother butchered meat acquired from outside the compound to cook, she panics — and rewards children with karaoke nights and blue backpacks.
Movie Review ★★
‘Partisan,’ with Vincent Cassel, Alex Balaganskiy, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara. Directed by Ariel Kleiman, from a screenplay by Kleiman and Sarah Cyngler. 98 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
While these details are intriguing, they require a larger context. There Kleiman and co-screenwriter Sarah Cyngler make a tactical error in offering no rhyme or reason as to why Gregori orders the murders of certain ordinary individuals in the city. Are they connected somehow to the damaged women in the cult? Do they represent some ideological conflict for Gregori?
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The film’s calculated vagueness is a distraction in basic storytelling terms. Much better is the rising, adversarial nature of Gregori’s relationship with two boys in his charge: one a relative newcomer (Alex Balaganskiy) who sees right through the leader’s hokum, and the other (Jeremy Chabriel) a surrogate son who feels his humanity slipping away.
Those growing fissures in Gregori’s cult-of-personality paradise ground this incomplete fantasy in something real.