(MA15+) Directed by Ariel Kleiman
Starring Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel

by Ben McEachen

Euphemisms jostle for position because it's hard to say much about this resonant, confident debut without diminishing the experience of it. Australian director Ariel Kleiman and co-writer Sarah Cyngler have composed an elegant fable about responding to the world's terrors. Revealing more about Partisan risks conjuring standard images or expectations that it does so well to elevate beyond standard.

Not that Partisan entirely escapes predictability or the familiarity of a three-act flow. Final stages are comparatively textbook after the intriguing set-up and assured control of revelations about the place, purpose and power of Gregori (Vincent Cassel). His relationship with 11-year-old “son” Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) blossoms into a situation that feels inevitable. But how the seeds of destruction have been sowed remain with you.

Using locations in Georgia, Eastern Europe, to atmospheric effect, Partisan deposits us in a bombed-out “Nowhere Land”. Sound and vision are top shelf, propagating a surreal-real vibe akin to Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Although casting non-actors in many roles results in amateur moments, their cosmopolitan blend underscores the universality of Partisan's quiet thrust. Capably matching the overall intent is Cassel, who imbues Gregori with the understated charm and conviction required.

A disturbing whisper, Partisan is a message movie that doesn't megaphone. What is up with Gregori drills into how adults raise children, rather than taking cheap shots at religion or political factions. The hypocrisy of fighting fire with fire combines with the atrocity of brainwashing children – in the name of freedom. The moral of the story gently sears as an insightful commentary about the state of us all.

This review was originally published in Rolling Stone, May 2015. For more Rolling Stone movie reviews, click here.