The first US reviews of Partisan have praised Ariel Kleiman's debut feature as an intelligent, superbly acted and original drama.

Starring Vincent Cassel, newcomer Jeremy Chabriel and Florence Mezzara, the film had its world premiere in the World Cinema Dramatic competition of the Sundance Film Festival.

Co-written by Kleiman and Sarah Cyngler and produced by Warp Films Australia’s Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw, the film will be released in Australia by Madman Entertainment.

Set in an unnamed, decaying urban environment, the plot follows Alexander (Chabriel), a playful, curious and naïve kid who has been raised as a trained assassin to see the world through the eyes of his father Gregori (Cassel).

“The movie resembles Dogtooth and another recent festival favourite, The Tribe, in the way it plunges viewers into a circumscribed world that has its own warped moral code," declared Variety critic Ben Kenigsberg.

“Although there’s clearly a genre hook (pint-size assassins), Partisan unfolds patiently and may have too little signposting for the mainstream. But discerning fests and viewers will take note of a film that marks the arrival of a filmmaker to watch.

“Casting Cassel as a ruthless villain might seem like a cliche, but Kleiman uses him counterintuitively, locating an avuncular, calming quality in the actor. Newcomer Chabriel ably shoulders the movie’s central role, showing an impressive range of expression even when his sheltered character isn’t speaking.”

Screen Daily’s Tim Grierson hailed the film as an an intelligent, controlled drama highlighted by strong performances from Cassel and Chabriel.

Grierson noted that Kleiman “may not delve deeply enough into the psychology of his fascinating milieu — a utopian commune led by a man who preaches the evils of the outside world while training his flock to kill — but the threat of violence lingers over the proceedings like a dark cloud.”

He predicted, “Partisan could attract buyers on the strength of its premise alone: At the art house, cults (and cult-like behaviour) have been a central focus in recent acclaimed indies like Martha Marcy May Marlene, Dogtooth and even The Master. Cassel’s marquee value is also a draw, and enthusiastic reviews should further spark audience interest.”


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