Partisan (2015)

First published by Real Crime Magazine

Ariel Kleiman’s feature debut Partisan begins with a woman and child passing a man on the side of the road. The man is Gregori (Vincent Cassel), out scavenging for wood, and in the next scene shown using the gathered lumber to fashion a table. Shouldering heavy beams and engaging in carpentry, Gregori seems a veritable modern-day Jesus – and later he will display a predilection for righteous sermonising – but the gun that he is packing tells a different story.

11 years after Gregori has charmed bruised single mother Susanna (Florence Mezzara) on a hospital’s maternity ward, we see him surrounded by a harem of women and children – Susanna and her son Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) being the first and eldest in their respective categories – in a compound outside of town that Gregori has built with his own hands, installing himself as the community’s Samaritan, teacher and patriarch. It is a refuge for damaged women and their progeny, but also a cult and a prison of sorts, with the brainwashed children encouraged to look to Gregori as a god, and only ever allowed beyond its confines when carrying out professional hits – for which they are rewarded with gold stars and Friday night karaoke.

Partisan is a study of the intense yet fragile father-son relationship that has developed between Gregori and Alexander, as its foundations become irrevocably shaken by the arrival both of a baby brother for Alexander, and of an older boy (Alex Blaganskiy) who openly challenges Gregori’s authority. Over the course of one year, the beginnings of Alexander’s adolescent disillusionment are traced to their inevitable, Oedipal conclusion. Though certainly a story of crime and cold-blooded murder, Partisan is also a coming-of-age saga about family and the ties that bind. Think The Godfather relocated to an unnamed Eurasian backwater.

Anton Bitel