Partisan is a film unafraid to make its audience work. It is an incredible exercise in obscurity, occasionally too much so, but for the most part, it hits its mark. Few things are stated outright. Allusion, not assertion, is this film’s method of communication. The film’s confidence shines through its willingness to leave the audience to interpret the film’s meanings.
If ‘show, don’t tell’ is the mantra of the screenwriter, this is the film that embodies it to near perfection. Most of the important information in the film is left unsaid but still available to the audience. One key scene even reaches its end before the most significant object is even referenced.
It is obvious upon viewing, why this film has won an award at Cannes for cinematography It is an astonishingly confident Australian film and is everything Australian films are not expected to be. This confidence is all the more noteworthy due to the fact that this is the directorial debut of Ariel Kleiman. To start a career in such a fashion suggests a long and successful one may be stretched out before him.
The plot isn’t a convoluted one; nonetheless, it carries great power. It is a peculiar tale that gives time to all its characters. This time labored upon the characters makes the story only more confronting. It is not a story to be enjoyed, featuring, as it does, the struggle of children learning to think beyond the confines of their cult-like society. The insular society in which the characters live seems almost idyllic to begin with. When the status quo is threatened by thoughts from the outside world, a troubling yet beautiful character study ensues.
No character is demonised so the film manages to do away with roles like hero and villain. Instead, all are presented in a way that appears unbiased and quite fair. This is an odd achievement when dealing with fictional characters.
This is clearly not a movie for everyone. The slow pacing may leave the viewer wondering how they can achieve a natural climax and so some may grow impatient. Those prepared to leave the film to unfold in its own fashion will be richly rewarded. This film is probably to be avoided if you are not in the mood for a challenge. Partisan may hold to a ‘less is more’ style for most of its duration but when it comes to the more confronting scenes, it doesn’t indulge its audience’s desire to hide from these moments. One scene even seems to play with the viewer’s expectations by returning them to an ugly scene that they could be excused for thinking had been avoided.
Partisan is a film abundant with slow scenes that build silent suspense, accompanied by lingering shots of stark Eastern European towns. The music, cinematography and direction aid a compelling narrative and so an intricate and well-made film is formed. The music provides an almost ethereal quality that works harmoniously with the landscapes on show in the film to create a strong sense of the isolation their cult-like compound has created. Lasting shots of worn buildings and rusting infrastructure couple naturally with the music to create the sense of something almost unearthly. This, coupled with the cinematography and the all too earthly story of human interaction (sometimes at its most desperate), results in a heady mix that works perfectly.
There are some films that leave scenes playing on your mind long after you’ve left the theatre and Partisan is one such film. It deserves a far greater audience than it is likely to reach.
Words by Liam McNally
Palace Nova Cinema – Partisan (2015)
Watch the trailer here