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CANNES 2022 Competition

Review: Pacifiction

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- CANNES 2022: Catalan maverick Albert Serra comes up with a sprawling, glittering essay on neo-colonialism in French Polynesia

Review: Pacifiction
Benoît Magimel in Pacifiction

Albert Serra’s work is an example of how an artist might be consumed with the historical past and its lost values and temptations, but is seldom in thrall to conservative or reactionary thinking. His feature-film work, often premiering every three to four years, is refreshing and bracing in comparison to everything else made currently, like taking a dusty hardback volume off a shelf – from an author like Melville or Dumas, say – and being enchanted anew. Despite the fact that the dust might get up your nose, and the book spine’s glue is fading.

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With Pacifiction [+see also:
trailer
interview: Albert Serra
film profile
]
, which has had a brilliant inaugural bow in Cannes’ official competition, he deceptively seems to be shrugging off this Romanticism-and-oil-painting obsession, finally positioning our frightening modern world in his sights. But Benoît Magimel as his charismatic lead, in manner and characterisation, is as much of an ambling, soused dandy as Casanova in Story of My Death [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Albert Serra
film profile
]
or any of the dogging libertines in Liberté [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
; he may have a beeping smartphone in his dapper suit-trouser pocket, but still seems to be on temporary leave from the corner of a Delacroix painting.

Although containing some elements of a classic paranoid thriller, Pacifiction is really more of a detailed character study, uninterested in plot progression and more so in creating a fully rounded portrayal of a human being. This is seen in a hat tip to one of the greatest adherents of this mode, John Cassavetes, in how Serra frames Magimel’s character, De Roller, the commissioner for the overseas collectivity of French Polynesia, flat on his bottom in a mirror-studded nightclub dressing room, pleased as punch to be the ringleader and patron of the evening’s risqué entertainment. This is the signature image of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, starring Ben Gazzara, also referenced by Mathieu Amalric’s On Tour [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Mathieu Amalric
interview: Mathieu Amalric
film profile
]
recently in the Cannes competition.

De Roller’s existence as a born politician and fixer is a lens through which Serra explores a creeping process of re-colonisation. He’s by no means a man nostalgic for France’s bygone imperial glory and foreign influence, preferring himself as a calming, toadying influence on all parties, from the island population and the tourist trade to his superiors back in France, from all of which he derives his own source of supreme power. But with this febrile modern world as it is, things are shifting, and nuclear tests on the island are occurring for the first time since 1995; protests are being organised by the local clan chiefs with the approval of the authorities – although De Roller thinks the protesters could be a Russian or Chinese plant.

All through Pacifiction, Serra generates tension from the feeling that something is ending, that De Roller’s myopic Eden will fall to darker temptations, and that catastrophe will abound as nation states start arming up again. There is so much beauty and splendour that he is capable of taking in: a spectacular trip out onto the waves to jet-ski and surf on their ascending crests; the traditional dance and music of the natives, cross-faded into decadent house music at Morton’s club (run by another expat played by Sergi López), where the attendees start to disrobe like in an early Andy Warhol film; and a passionate affair with the trans choreographer (Pahoa Mahagafanau) of the dance troupe. Yet the Romantic-with-a-capital-R in Serra comes with a complicit payback, and De Roller is fated to fall victim to his obsessions and apathy.

Pacifiction is a co-production between France, Spain, Germany and Portugal, staged by Idéale Audience, Andergraun Films, Tamtam Film GmbH and Rosa Filmes. Its international sales are by Films Boutique.

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Photogallery 27/05/2022: Cannes 2022 - Pacifiction

17 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Albert Serra, Benoît Magimel, Pahoa Mahagafanau
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa - fadege.it, @fadege.it

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