In an ambiguous post-apocalyptic future (or alternative present), one man is surrounded only by women and children, with the little boys around him being trained to commit assassinations. This cult-leader-like figure is a million miles from Mad Max's Immortan Joe, his wives and War Boys and herds of souped-up vehicles hurtling across the Namibian desert. It may seem a strange comparison but there is something familiar between the Immortan cult of Fury Road and the Vincent Cassel-led cult in Partisan.
Cassel plays paternalistic leader, husband and father figure in this bleak new world. He collects women and children and invites them to stay with his group, away from the violence and danger of the outside world. In their little commune, we see Cassel's idol-like Gregori through the impressionable eyes of 11-year-old Alexander, who has been raised by his mother and Gregori since he was a baby. He is one of many children who learns of the world only what Gregori tells him, and he is trained to commit frequent assassinations for his father figure, told he is keeping his extended family safe.
A new arrival to the commune in the form of troubled boy Leo begins to show the cracks in Gregori's worldview. Leo's defiance of Gregori opens Alexander's eyes to the possibility of questioning authority and challenging the societal structure he has lived with since he was a baby.
To return to the world of Fury Road just once more, that film had strong female characters attempting to save themselves from the oppressive regime they found themselves a part of. Partisan offers an altogether bleaker, but seemingly happier world where the women characters completely fail to question the social order and accept gratefully the safe world they have been offered by Gregori. To be fair, Gregori is no grotesque Immortan, but he is just as dangerous a character, even if he is more discreet about it. To think that none of the mothers that surround him would raise concerns about their boys being sent to gun down strangers seems absurd. Writer/director Ariel Kleiman's script is inspired by real stories of child assassins, and while its female characters are woefully neglected, the relationship between Gregori and Alexander is a fascinating and gripping one.
The casting aids this relationship fantastically, with Cassel magnetic as always; his charisma making him charming, while his eyes can turn sinister in a heartbeat. Equally impressive is Jeremy Chabriel, who has similarly piercing eyes and a steeliness and stillness that makes him intriguing to watch as he matures and changes through the story.
It’s a film that might have little time for its female characters, but in its isolationist, shoot-first worldview as espoused by Gregori, it shows the destructiveness of traditional masculine thinking and its clash of wills leads to a smart, understated, but powerful climax.
Kleiman uses his Australian and particularly Georgian locations brilliantly, so while it may not look as impressive as some other post-apocalyptic landscapes (hello again, Fury Road), it’s incredibly evocative and the ambiguity about the world created makes for intriguing and convincing viewing.
Partisan is an impressive feature debut; both expertly condemning its paternalistic society, but sadly lacking in a single interesting female character to take a stand to Cassel's complex figure.
PARTISAN / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ARIEL KLEIMAN / SCREENPLAY: ARIEL KLEIMAN, SARAH CYNGLER / STARRING: VINCENT CASSEL, JEREMY CHABRIEL, FLORENCE MEZZARA, NIGEL BARBER / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10