by Matthew Balz
Over the past few years, there has been a dependable trend of films pertaining to cults and small manipulative sects of people. These films have covered a an array of perspective and scope, ranging from 2011’s award winning independent film Martha Marcy May Marlene to this year’s period film Colonia wherein Emma Watson plays a woman intent on freeing her boyfriend from a political prison in 1973, based on true accounts. In many cases, the most fascination aspect of these films centers on the sect itself, whether it is a minor background theme or the overbearing antagonist in the forefront. The head figure, or group as a whole, stand by a theology uncommon with the majority of society, allowing many creative and obscure ideas to direct the characters and the story. One great example of the creativity allotted to cults in film can be found in 2011’s Sound of My Voice which focuses on a small secretive group whom surround a supposed time traveler from the future. Partisan, however, takes this formula and legitimizes it for the very people we could find in our backyard.
“Partisan,” in its English form, refers to a strong supporter of a cause, or a member of a secret group discreetly fighting against a larger force. Both of these definitions apply to the main plot of this film which follows Gregori (Vincent Cassel) as a man who brings single mothers and their children to live in a commune hidden within the concrete derelicts of urban Australia. Like other films with similar themes, one of the attracting factors here is Gregori’s motives and methods. There is absolute reason to believe he does intend to save his self-created community from certain perils and pain of the modern world, but like every other cult, fiction or fact, one single man’s pursuits are never entirely pure. To secure resources for his group, Gregori trains his the susceptible young recruits as hitmen who carry out designated assassinations around the city. With this mindset, Gregori hopes to achieve a pure life of peace through obedience and murder. As the eldest youth, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) is exposed to the most contradictory lifestyles, earning gold stars for his school assignments while simultaneously shooting strangers point-blank ten seconds after first meeting them. This is where the story’s strongest message makes its hardest impact, bestowing the responsibilities of evil men on the shoulders of children secluded not only from adulthood, but from the emotions of the real world. This film takes a wholly innovative view of the normal “coming-of-age” drama, viewing a youth’s development by way of a twisted alternate upbringing, and also mirroring the path to adulthood through Alexander’s momentary transitions into a normal member of the society outside his reclusive community.
Partisan sits you inside a comfortable family of forged-affiliation and manipulated delusion, keeping encounters with the outside world limited to only when our characters themselves are exposed to it. When people outside the community are introduced, we meet them only under the conditions of the members of the commune—often as targets, rarely as friends, always an emotional and worldly stranger. From the very first shots, visually portraying Gregori as his own self-proclaimed brand of a Messiah, the world is a distrusting land of forgotten infrastructure and hidden agendas, which sets us up for greater impact when Alexander, dutifully making his rounds throughout the vast world, is confronted not by the evils of Gregori’s preaching, but by the compassion of everyday civilians.
As with other motion pictures on cults and cult leaders, the dream of a utopia always wears a price tag. Rarely does the dream ever define these communities, but rather it is the actions and undertakings of their devoted membership; the means of their pursuit. Despite whatever world they are struggling to overcome, or whatever developing age they are bequeathed, the ultimate fight is their beliefs and what they will sacrifice to reach that ultimate goal. That is the grittiest conflict.