Partisan, review: ‘Allegory of all trades, master of none’

09:00 12 January 2016

Partisan. Picture: Courtesy of BFI Film Festival 2015

Partisan. Picture: Courtesy of BFI Film Festival 2015


This tale of a cult leader draws from many real life equivalents, but loses steam in the process, writes Michael Joyce.

Director: Ariel Kleiman 
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara, Alex Balaganskiy and Sosina Wogayehu 
Film Length: 98 mins

Cult leader Gregory (Cassel) is a charismatic mix of David Koresh, Fagin and William Gladstone. He preys on fallen women, picking up his first recruit (Mezzara) when she is lying alone in bed in a maternity ward, having just given birth. A decade later he is running an enclosed establishment with a group of women and their children, who he home schools in maths, science, gardening and assassination. He seems like a benign ruler but all the children are expected to bump off a wrong’un or two.

Their existence in the community is relatively comfortable but restrictive, much like Kleiman’s film which is visually enticing and strongly performed but stubbornly refuses to go anywhere. The opening half hour pulls you in; you want to know more about this man and his community, but as the film mopes on it becomes clear that these answers aren’t coming and it soon runs out of dramatic interest.

A is for Ambiguity and Ambiguity is Art, but in this case ambiguity is just another word for having nothing much left to say and the film’s determination not to get bogged down in particulars gets tiresome. The working of the community, its motivation or the purpose of the killings the children perform are never explained. They all speak English, but the location appears to be Eastern Europe. The central conceit has modern day relevance, referencing the use of child soldiers by IS or in the Congo, as well as harking back to Lord of the Flies. It is all a little too inclusive though: it’s an allegory of all trades and master of none.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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