Mystery is all well and good when there’s a sufficiently drawn world beneath it. Partisan initially looks promising with a start suggestive of far more than it’s capable of delivering. After the first twenty minutes, a creeping awareness grows that Ariel Kleiman’s debut has nowhere to go and nothing to say along the route.
Launching with an enigmatic swagger, Vincent Cassel’s scruffy wanderer Gregori, wrapped in a thousand layers and carrying the contents of a furniture warehouse, staggers into an abandoned space where he’s hording a one man jumble sale. Delivery complete, he swings by a maternity ward and with a single flower starts his new society by persuading an abandoned mother (Florence Mezzara) to move into his concrete paradise with her new-born son.
Over a decade on and his little community has grown into a mini-survival cult. Just what they are surviving is never clear, the Georgian wasteland outside their bunker indicative of a world gone to ruin. Safely cocooned away from this, he now has several formerly abused mothers and their children, and leads them in an educational programme that takes in winter gardening, literacy and assassination.The outside world doesn’t so much bother them as they intrude into it. To raise funds, and possibly for other more personal reasons, Gregori sends out his young charges, led by Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), the original child, to carry out hit and run executions. It’s all done emotionlessly, the act drilled into them by constant practice at home.
The thinly sketched tipping point comes when a mother turns up complete with a new-born and an older son. His refusal to bow to Gregori’s behaviour, and even worse, the way he openly proves him wrong on a number of practical issues, forces a drastic overreaction that makes Alexander question his previously infallible mentor.
On paper, it might have seemed like a good narrative progression, but execution is sorely lacking. Kleiman has a tendency to pull a rabbit out his hat each time he needs to move Partisan forward. Instead of Alexander gaining gradual awareness, he lurches onwards in sudden leaps, held back until shoved roughly on once more. Cassel, a man comfortably capable of exuding charisma before abusing it, can’t turn Gregori into more than a shell. It’s never clear why anyone would go with him, or what he gets out of the whole set-up. He does overbearing paternalist well but he, like the world around him, is a mystery with no detail.
By this stage, Partisan has worn out its welcome, descending into a dull, monotonous slog. When the end comes, it isn’t soon enough.