Ariel Kleiman Partisan

Ariel Kleiman Partisan

Ariel Kleiman Partisan

Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara
Director: Ariel Kleiman
Running Time: 97 minutes

Synopsis: Alexander is the eldest of several children living in a closed-off compound on the outskirts of a town. Within its walls Alexander has been raised by a loner patriarch called Gregori (Vincent Cassel), his mother Susanna and a group of women – mothers to the other children and all part of his extended family.

Gregori is a charming and mysterious Pied Piper figure. He has created a safe haven and over the years recruited his extended family, offering them an idyllic alternative to the hellish reality he believes exists beyond the compound's walls. It's a colourful and energetic world, where freedom of expression and creativity are encouraged through open education and karaoke nights. But it's also an insular environment closed off from the outside world.

Alexander is like any other kid: playful, curious and naive. He is also a trained assassin.

Taught to rely solely on the teachings of their parents, Alexander and other children his age dutifully leave the safety of their community in order to carry out Gregori's orders. Despite their cold-blooded nature, their missions as assassins have always seemed innocent and inconsequential, with the children never fully comprehending the gravity of their actions.

Athletic, clever and the apple of Gregori's eye, Alexander celebrates his eleventh birthday. Days later, Gregori arrives home to the compound with a fragile young mother, Rosa, who has been isolated by the outside world. She joins the commune along with her newborn child and eleven-year-old son, Leo. It is immediately clear that Leo is different from the other children, emotionally and socially. He has spent longer in the outside world and defies Gregori's every word. When Leo witnesses a gruesome act in the courtyard, he lashes out and rebels against Gregori in front of the entire commune. Having never seen this kind of behaviour before, Alexander is both astonished and curious.

When Leo goes missing the next day, Alexander feels betrayed and confused. Beginning to think for himself, he starts to question Gregori's teachings – including his missions as a trained assassin. As his twelfth birthday nears, Alexander sees Gregori's code of right and wrong with fresh eyes, until tensions between them both push Alexander towards an irrevocable and tragic act.

Release Date: May 28th, 2015

About the Production

The Development Stage

Warp Films Australia Producers Sarah Shaw and Anna McLeish met writer and director Ariel Kleiman in 2010 following the success of his short film, Young Love, which was awarded an Honorable Mention for Short Filmmaking at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Based on his impressive body of work (his next short film Deeper than Yesterday went on to win the Petit Rail d'Or and the Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2011), the Producers commissioned Ariel and screenwriting partner Sarah Cyngler to develop their first feature, inspired by a newspaper article and exploring the concept of innocence stolen.

Anna McLeish (Producer) recalls: 'The notion that you have innocence, childhood innocence that is then taken and twisted in a certain direction by adults, and the responsibility that adults have towards children and what they impart on them. It fascinates all of us, in terms of a closed community, whether you call it a cult, whether you call it an extended family community, whether you call it a commune.

There's something fascinating in terms of understanding what that must be like for a child". Ariel Kleiman (Director) says of the script, 'Sarah and I wanted to tell a very simple story set in an impressionistic world, about children learning how to both love and hate from adults. It very quickly became about this boy in particular, Alexander, and Gregori, the man who shaped his reality."

The complete process from initial concept to shooting was approximately three years: 2010–2013. The script for Partisan was recognised by the Sundance Institute in 2012 where it was awarded the Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award, making it one of only four scripts worldwide selected for this honour.


Very early on in the filmmaking process, to generate the film's impressionistic 'Nowhere Land" the creative team decided to cast a collection of non-actors or -first timers' from various cultural backgrounds to play the many roles for women and children. Casting Agent Allison Meadows of Mullinars was enlisted to find non-actors who could bring 'an incredible truth and humanity to their role," says Producer Anna 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. While most of the casting was done in Australia, there was a big focus on ESL (English as a Second Language) schools, and new arrivals to Australia, again working closely with different ethnic communities living in Melbourne and Sydney."

Casting Gregori

Vincent Cassel joined the cast as Gregori later in the process. After reading the script and watching Deeper than Yesterday Vincent explains, '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."

From Ariel Kleiman's perceptive, casting Vincent Cassel for the role of Gregori was a 'No-brainer. I'd seen him successfully play a lot of pretty dark, malevolent characters before but it was actually a more tender, more vulnerable side to Vincent that I was interested in exploring in Gregori, in addition to the masculinity and the power and the control and the threat. I think Vincent beautifully brought all those different shades of humanity to the role."

Vincent quickly became a type of ringmaster to the 15 children, helping to draw out their best performances with an incredible generosity. 'I had a lot of fun with them", Vincent recalls. 'The minute you have a lot of kids on set, especially when there are 15, you never know what's going to happen. Sometimes they'd come up with reactions that were really surprising and cute to watch even while I was shooting. It is even easier to shoot with kids because you just have to watch and let yourself go."

Casting Alexander

The search for 11-year-old Alexander was a daunting task for the creative team. As well as a demanding filming schedule, the Producers and Director were looking for a specific set of attributes. Ariel Kleiman explains, 'The character of Alexander is mature and wise beyond his years, he's experienced much more than the average child his age. We were looking for a pretty remarkable kid, one who could capture that characteristic while remaining visibly innocent and vulnerable at the same time. He would also obviously be playing against Vincent Cassel so needed to have a certain striking quality to him that could command the screen in equal measure to Cassel. At the time of casting Alexander, I was actually looking at a lot of child athletes (videos and photography).

There was something in their eyes – they've been burdened with a discipline and a responsibility that can be, in my opinion, a bit unnatural for kids of those young ages. There was especially this powerful series of portraits by photographer Michal Chelbin capturing these little Ukrainian wrestling boys – some of them only eight or nine. When I saw Jeremy's tape the first thing that struck me was how much he looked like he could have been plucked straight out of one of those images. He's got this maturity and physicality, but also a deep sensitivity to him. His audition was very raw, natural and unfiltered and he had my attention immediately. He lived in Sydney and attended a French speaking school there which is how we found him. I went up to Sydney to meet him and quickly realised that he's a pretty special kid and an incredibly natural performer.

Throughout the audition process, Ariel spent a lot of time on both the individual characters, with key cast Jeremy ('Alexander") and Florence ('Susanna") in particular, but also with the ensemble cast to ensure the right on-screen dynamic between the women and children. The filming experience was incredibly enjoyable for French-born Jeremy and while playing opposite Vincent Cassel, the two formed a very close bond.

'Jeremy was very professional and focused", says Cassel. 'He really has this natural quality. He is very handsome and has strong eyes. He understood a lot of things during the process, the way he talks on set, the questions he asks about the frame, I think he's really got it now."

Casting Susanna (Florence Mezzara)

The character of Susanna is in her early 30s but her life experiences have aged her. She is a loving, doting and devoted mother to her son, Alexander. Softly spoken and calm, Susanna is close to breaking point, filled with anxiety and nerves yet somehow she manages to keep her fretfulness at bay.

Apart from a handful of commercials, Florence Mezzara had very little acting experience before she was cast as Susanna. Like the role of Alexander, the creative team found the search challenging and Florence was one of the last to join the cast of Partisan.

'I had seen so many women for Susanna, both non actors and actors but was struggling to find a perfect fit. Like Jeremy, Florence was also based in Sydney, and very late into the process with very little time left until the shoot I got given her tape. Honestly it was a huge relief - she was pretty remarkable", says Ariel. 'She read lines in that audition and was striking. I flew back up to Sydney where she met Jeremy and they did an audition together. They're both French expats and they were immediately so comfortable together. Seeing them like that sealed the deal: she was the one."

Florence immediately empathised with the character of Susanna. 'Motherhood is fraught with guilt and compromises. As the world hasn't been kind to her, when this charismatic man showed up at her bedside in dismal circumstances and offered her refuge, she took a leap of faith. Despite sharing his attention with others, the support this unlikely commune offers is a gift. Despite her horror and sadness at it going so wrong, she wills herself to go on in this fantasy world. I also blind myself to violence in the world for the sake of raising my son to be hopeful. Mothering requires support. Women find compassion in one another, and help each other to be more self-sufficient", says Florence.


Before shooting commenced, the cast spent an intensive two week rehearsal period together to ensure everyone had the opportunity to get to know each other and bond.

Ariel Kleiman recalls 'We were all very passionate about making sure that we had that time together because the characters in the story have lived together for 11 years and in reality we were putting all these strangers together, most of whom had never acted before, and they had to feel like a genuine family unit pretty quickly. That time together really helped everyone relax, break down barriers and allow them to get to know one another. Bonds and relationships formed very naturally and quickly."


The interior world for Partisan was shot on location in Mount Eliza and Point Nepean, in Victoria, over five weeks. A reduced cast and crew then traveled to Georgia (Eastern Europe) for a further two weeks to capture the exterior world of the film.

Production Design

As well as co-writing together, Partisan saw Ariel and Sarah continue the creative duo formula they established on their shorts, with Sarah undertaking the production and costume design. This time she collaborated with experienced Production Designer Steven Jones-Evans and Costume Designer Maria Pattison.

The 'Outside World"

Ariel and Sarah were living in London during the writing process, and did a couple of research trips to Georgia over this period, which formed the basis of the 'outside world" for the film. On deciding to shoot on location in Georgia, Ariel said: 'Really early on we made a trip by chance to Georgia, because Sarah and I were travelling in Europe and looking to visit somewhere different. My parents grew up in Ukraine and often spoke of summers spent there, so we went! That was in 2010 when we started writing and we were immediately struck by a strange and fantastic mystical feeling the place evokes. With its hodge podge of architecture, vines growing out of buildings and mountainous backdrop, we just knew this was the exact 'Nowhere Land" setting we were looking for. Many areas were very dilapidated because of the recent war there with Russia, so there was this faded grandeur to it. It visually represented the brutality of the outside world that Gregori warns the children about. That trip was also a big inspiration for the compound. Over the next three years we made a few more trips back there to keep soaking it all in."

The 'Inside World" (The Compound)

The most important element of the production design, to the creative team, was for the compound to feel secluded and non-specific to a time, place or culture. Finding a building and a courtyard in Victoria that fitted the description in the script was a challenging task, but the team finally came across the Morning Star Estate in Mount Eliza.

'The compound is Gregori's creation – a warm and colourful place. Ultimately the guy is living out a childhood he never had so it's full of fun, life & love. Layered upon that is the aesthetic influence of all the different mothers and the chaos brought by the kids. We had a certain look we were attracted to and had amalgamated in our minds from our travels to Eastern Europe and Asia. There's something about those countries, they have this amazing collision of the organic and the synthetic that is endlessly inspiring to us." explains Ariel.


The costumes in Partisan also had to reflect the film's setting in a nowhere-land and the character's secluded existence within it.

'Again with the costumes we were very much inspired by our travels in Asia and Eastern Europe where it feels as though time is sort of suspended and it could be anywhere from 1978 to 2002" says Ariel Kleiman. 'Within this world we created, we decided that the characters would order anything they need from the kind of epic one-stop-shop catalogues we had around when we were kids. So the costumes are our version of catalogue ordered pieces that we imagined the characters have customised, individualised and swapped and shared between one another. The theme of escapism and seclusion played hugely into the design too – in their life with Gregori and the compound, these women now have a chance to live out fantasies that wouldn't have been possible in their lives outside. They have a renewed pride in their appearance and also that of their children. It is important to them to always look their best."


From the very first drafts of the script, music played an integral part of the story. Particularly in a few set pieces of karaoke where Gregori manipulates the children by offering them the role of 'Pop Star". 'It was one of the first ideas Sarah and I had. That when the kids sing in the film we would see the true depths of the emotional darkness they are being burdened with."

However Ariel felt that the use of existing pop songs would take the audience out of the unique world that had been created for the film. So instead, the team collaborated with an ecclectic group of artists to create wholly original Number #1 pop songs. Reaching out to some of his favourite artists, Joseph Mount from Metronomy, Sebastian Tellier & Jarvis Cocker, Ariel was thrilled to find that they all enthusiastically embraced the challenge.

'I think I got very lucky in that all of them really responded to the script and understood the aesthetic we were going for. Sarah and I gave them each a theme and they just ran with it. They are all such great songwriters so getting back their drafts was an exhilarating surprise. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of making this film."

Director's Statement

I've never really been in touch with why I've chosen to tell certain stories over others. I've always followed a more instinctual route. Upon reflection what I do know is that every film I have made has been sparked by a surreal image.

In early 2010, I came across a feature article in the New York Times about the child assassin trades in Columbia called the -Sicarios'. Aside from the horrific nature of these kids' stories and actions, I wasn't sure why months later that image of a child gunning down a man stayed with me as much as it did. Until, coincidentally, I came across a quote from one of my filmmaking heroes, Luis Buñuel. The master of Surrealism was quoted as saying something like 'I couldn't think of a more surreal image than one man shooting another man".

It was a very simple statement but the more I thought about it the more I had a feeling deep within my stomach telling me that I needed to turn my gut reaction into a film. I knew from the very beginning that I didn't want to tell a story specifically about these trades in Columbia. I wanted to strip their story of all the drugs and economic and socio political factors inherent to that reality. I wanted to tell a very simple and human story; something universal, grand and mythic about the relationship between kids and adults; about adults seeing the world in a certain way, and passing that down to their kids. A story about the power of independent thought and the tragedy of children not being allowed to see the world through clear and optimistic eyes.

Whilst writing -Partisan', Sarah and I often thought of the film as a fable; and in many ways, it's a Pied Piper tale. In our version, Gregori's hypnotic instrument is not his pipe but his mouth. He feels angry and scorned by the world and as revenge, leads these mothers and children away from society to his compound. In a way, Partisan picks up the story once they have all been lured out to his cave. There, he teaches and encourages them to hate people as much as he does. Gregori does all of this under the guise of it being a happier, safer life for everyone, while in reality, it actually just stems from his own damaged soul.

Eleven-year-old Alexander is at the exciting and daunting age where he is starting to think for himself and Partisan is very much told from his emotional perspective. The audience joins Alexander on his journey out of childhood, sharing his love and adoration for Gregori, his comfort within the compound, his fear of the outside world and those who inhabit it and his confusion at the dawn of his awakening. I want every film I make to take the audience on a journey. I love the idea of a film throwing us into a strange, extreme and unexpected world. Despite this world being nothing like our day-to-day life, we instantly connect and relate to the emotions that unfold on screen. It's these experiences that I love most about cinema.

Release Date: May 28th, 2015