By Daniel Barnes
*Now playing at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, and available to rent on VOD services.
I’ve come to realize that I am abnormally fascinated by movies about cults, whether in the form of documentary (Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple), dramatic non-fiction (Patty Hearst), fiction loosely inspired by fact (The Sacrament), or a complete work of fiction, such as Ariel Kleiman’s striking debut Partisan. Why the fascination? That’s really a matter between me and Dr. Richard Nygard, but I think it’s likely a byproduct of agnosticism – I don’t believe in ghosts or vampires or mummies, but I sure as hell believe in religious fanatics. Partisan reveals its world glimpse by tantalizing glimpse, slowly sketching a detail-light portrait of mind control and institutionalized obedience, to the point that any sort of plot recap feels like a spoiler. Sufficed to say that Vincent Cassel plays Gregori, the leader of a tight-knit, self-sufficient group of single mothers and their brainwashed children tucked deep inside of a subterranean stronghold. Gregori has assumed the role of father and teacher to all of the children, indoctrinating them with a “golden star” board and a “pop star of the week” karaoke spotlight, but a sinister purpose lies behind the innocuous awards system. Kleiman portrays this world from the inside out, eschewing context and dogma to give us an idea of the dizzying fear and paranoia underlying every aspect of cult life, using long takes, slow pans and tracks, and stifling compositions to create a feeling of simultaneous comfort and danger.