Directed by Ariel Kleiman
In “Partisan,” writer-director Ariel Kleiman’s first feature, star Vincent Cassel can be found communicating with about two dozen children. They are the sons and daughters of his character, Gregori, and his half-dozen wives, who all live in an idyllic dystopian commune in some English-speaking European region. They live in the safety of their walled little town, but still, Gregori trains the children (including 12-year-old Alexander, the oldest of them, played by Jeremy Chabriel) to carry out executions of outsiders he obviously considers a threat to security. The bearded charismatic leader talks down to these children, most of which are younger than ten years old. But you also sense that Cassel is talking down to you. In fact, he always seems to be doing that. He sounds arrogant—elitist, even. Maybe the 48-year-old French actor’s accent gets in the way. When the film’s unimaginative script is filtered through his mouth, it somehow comes out even more heavy-handed than before. Cassel kills “Partisan.” Strangely, since his character never once pulls a trigger. But who are these children killing? Why does Gregori want them dead? And why are they all living in isolation in the first place? These aren’t teasers for my synopsis; these are questions that “Partisan” never bothers to answer.
A slow-moving, muddled plot doesn’t take the time to develop any of its characters, or hash out any of its plot points. After an hour, the point of the movie wasn’t clear to me. After an hour and a half, I was convinced it just didn’t have a point. Eventually, a last-minute course-correct cleared it all up. Just in time for the credits to role. 90 minutes of humdrum for about 90 seconds of effective filmmaking. I couldn’t have cared less about the fates of any of the characters. We don’t know enough about them to care. “Partisan” never lifts its veil of secrecy. It’s always there, clouding the story in murky confusion. Plus, it seems out of character for the bright Alexander to blindly follow his leader’s orders to kill seemingly innocent people. I simply don’t buy it.
Thankfully, most of those child actors make for convincing little thespians. It’s not Chabriel’s fault that his character wasn’t fleshed out. But there’s no doubt they worked best in group scenes, when they looked like they were just being themselves. If only the ham-fisted Cassel could have taken a lesson from them. Instead, “Partisan” flounders as one of the year’s most disappointing films.