When Ariel Kleiman’s debut feature Partisan screened at Sundance’s Library Theatre, a venue often reserved for horror movies, I was not expecting the Australian movie to fit into that genre. Yet in a very quiet way it does. “It’s very creepy, I really liked it,” the man next to me said.
The fact that Vincent Cassel (who replaced Oscar Isaac) plays Gregori, a cult leader who lives with an array of women and is father figure to 15 children, is only one facet of this intriguing story. In fact young Sydney newcomer Jeremy Chabriel (Kleiman found him in a French school) who plays Alexander, the eldest of the children and possesses one amazing set of wide icy blue eyes, pretty much steals the show. Everyone loves a good kid in movies and local Utah audiences bombarded him with praise.
When talking to Kleiman, the VCA graduate whose short film Deeper Than Yesterday won awards at major festivals, including Cannes and Sundance, likes to remain cryptic about the Partisan story, which leaves quite a bit to the imagination. Filmed at a winery in Mount Eliza in Victoria and what appears to be a decaying housing estate in Georgia in Eastern Europe, the film has a sparse futuristic look as if this is where we might end up if we’re not careful. He wrote the screenplay with his partner Sarah Cyngler, who is also involved in the design of the film.
Vincent Cassel has a very strong and imposing presence. Is that why you wanted him?
He is one of my favourite actors. He has a unique blend of characteristics: strong, masculine, charismatic and he is equally appealing to women and to children. He has a playful side and I think that’s what really comes out in the film.
How did you come up with the film’s eerie tone?
The tone is complex. It’s an absurdist film; it’s an extreme film. I hope people see the absurdity in it. There’s a lot of love but obviously there’s a lot of darkness and it’s a tragedy too.
How difficult was it to get it made and financed?
It was tricky and I think it’s going to be tricky for every first-time filmmaker who is trying to make something outside of the box. But we had a lot of champions of the movie, our investors for instance : Screen Australia, Film Victoria and a company from London called Protagonist Pictures and Animal Kingdom films from New York. An international bunch.
Do you think you have the characteristics of a charismatic leader, given you’re so tall?
I don’t think you need to be tall. Sarkozy and Putin are not very tall and they are leaders. There are a lot of examples like that, so no, it’s not about that. To be a leader, you need to believe in what you say and on a certain level I am like that. But I wouldn’t pretend to be a leader of something I didn’t believe in just to be a leader. Let’s say on the set and in the job I do, I can take people with me.
You have a strong personality would you say?
Hopefully. I have no idea where it comes from. I think if your parents gave you love, you have a tendency to trust yourself a little more. I think it has a lot to do with that. That’s the subject of the movie too.
Were you in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack? Did you go on the march? What is the aftermath?
I was in Brazil and I got into Paris on the day of the march. The aftermath is.. I guess they succeeded in the way that everybody is scared right now, Jews, Muslims, Christians, people in general. People are just scared and people don’t want to be terrorized but they are somehow being careful.
But things are not what they appear to be. It’s not like bad Muslims are killing people. There are so many different details that tell you what you see is not what you get.