In 2010, Ariel Kleiman came across an article in the New York Times about child assassin trades in Colombia.

The piece affected him greatly and he continued to think about it for months; until he realised his gut reaction was to take the bones of this story and make it into a feature film.

Immediately, the writer/director set about penning the script with partner Sarah Cyngler.

Two years later, he had Partisan.

Partisan follows the plight of 11-year-old Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) a trained child assassin raised in a cultish retreat consisting of mothers, their children and Gregori (Vincent Cassell); their patriarch.

The film is set in a place Kleiman often refers to as Nowhere Land (actually shot in Melbourne and Georgia). While the initial inspiration for the project may have come from events in Colombia; a Colombian film this is not.

“In terms of the setting of the film, I felt pretty strongly that I wasn’t the right person to direct [that] story,” Kleiman tells IF. “I am from suburban Melbourne and I just felt that the story of the ‘Sicarios’ in Colombia wasn’t for me to tell.

“I wanted to approach it more like a myth or a fable. What really struck Sarah and I was the complexity of the kids’ situation. On the one hand committing this horrible act, but on the other there is love and family and, also, financial gains.”

Producing team Warp Films Australia, Sarah Shaw and Anna McLeish, met Kleiman in 2010 after seeing his short film, Young Love, and after hearing his ideas for Partisan, they jumped on board straight away. It is their third feature and the duo hold high hopes for the film’s theatrical performances both domestically and overseas.

“Everyone has been encouraged recently with what appears to be a resurgence of audiences watching Australian films here,” says Shaw. “Though Partisan is an Australian film, the story is so large in scope, I think it’s on its own, it has appeal in Australia or elsewhere.” 

Casting the film proved to be a tricky situation, with two different processes taking place.

Firstly, Kleiman wanted an accomplished actor who could handle the complexities of the character of Gregori.

On the other hand, to help create that feeling of “Nowhere Land”, he wanted the rest of the film’s cast to be a collection of non-actors or ‘first timers’ from various cultural backgrounds.

Casting Agent Allison Meadows of Mullinars was enlisted to find non-actors who could bring “an incredible truth and humanity to their role,” says McLeish. “The casting process went far and wide to find the right children and women who have English as their second language and that come from a complete mix of backgrounds and ethnicities.”

In order to find such a cast, the team looked at many ESL (English as a Second Language) schools and it was here they came across Jeremy Chabriel, who, though Sydney-based, attends a French-speaking school.

“Finding Jeremy was a massive relief,” says Kleiman. “There is so much complexity to the role of Alexander. We knew finding a child actor who could inhabit all of that would be a challenge.” 

Of course, Chabriel also had to have the skill to act opposite Cassel, who signed on the project after reading the script. Of his involvement, he has said: “It was one of the most interesting and mysterious things I had seen. I think Ariel is very elegant and very subtle in the way he directs. We only met on Skype a couple of times before the shoot began, but we clicked right away.”

Shooting took place over six and a half weeks (“Five weeks in Melbourne and about a week and a half in Georgia,” says Shaw) and has been picked up for distributed my Madman Entertainment .

Partisan will hit cinemas in Australia on May 28.

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