At Tahiti’s Paradise Night club, France’s highest government official, Polynesia’s High Commissioner De Roller (Benoît Magimel, "The Piano Teacher"), tells a French Admiral (Marc Susini, "Liberté") he’s heard some of its scantily clad women have been aboard the Admiral’s nuclear submarine. As De Roller deals with passport issues, hosts honorary luncheons and acts as a liaison for mistrustful locals, he keeps his ear to the ground and eyes on the ocean trying to determine if widespread rumors about the resumption of devastating nuclear tests are true while doling out “Pacifiction.”
Laura's Review: A
Writer/director/coeditor Albert Serra (“Liberté,” “The Death of Louis XIV”) once again examines the foibles and uncertainties those in positions of power admit only to themselves in a character study within a political thriller more intent on mood than answers. With his highlighted hair, small mouth, thin lips, cream colored suit and ever present tinted glasses, Benoît Magimel is the very picture of a suave European diplomat whether helping choreograph a native dance imitating cock fights or boarding a twin engine to search the seas for clandestine activity. He’s a glad hander convinced of his good intentions while unsure of his current standing. Cinematographer/coeditor (with Serra and Ariadna Ribas) Artur Tort ("The Death of Louis XIV"), who, along with Magimel just won a Cesar award for this film, generally shoots in medium to long shots, in keeping with Serra’s murky narrative with its Graham Green vibe. Tort also captures the stunning color combinations which define the film’s Polynesian locations, green canopies of palm trees against teal water and orange sunsets bleeding into purple dusks.
Throughout the film’s 165 minute running time, we follow De Roller on pursuits large and small. He’ll face Matahi (Matahi Pambrun) at a meeting with locals voicing disbelief that anything will be done to protect them if the nuclear rumors are true. He’ll fight for the opening of a casino against the religious conservatism seeking to derail it. He’ll treat the complaint about a supposedly stolen passport of a man claiming to be a Portuguese diplomat (Alexandre Melo) with barely contained amusement in a sequence that introduces us to the sexually ambiguous Shannah (the marvelous Pahoa Mahagafanau), a flirtatious hotel employee hoping to replace De Roller’s ‘bitch’ of a secretary (Mareva Wong). In one thrilling sequence, he’ll even take off his shoes to hop on the back of a Jet Ski to ride out to the startlingly blue waves being chased by surfers. De Roller may be navigating shifting sands, but he’ll confront the man who suddenly replaces his partner who advises De Roller to tone down his alarmist nuclear rhetoric, De Roller telling him he’s no friend and he ‘knows what he’s up to.’
But De Roller’s main focus is on that Admiral, whose medal bedecked uniform and short stature recall Napoleon and who, in his cups, tells De Roller’s new ‘partner’ that terrorist threats surround them. Driven out to cliffs in his white Mercedes, De Roller will scan the horizon with binoculars when he isn’t observing the comings and goings of motorboats in the bushes with Olivier (Baptiste Pinteaux). After a constantly moving two hours, Serra slows down a bit in his final act to give each of these two their say, De Roller in a ruminative soliloquy about colonialism, the Admiral, after a homoerotic dance display in Morton’s (Sergi López, "With a Friend Like Harry") nightclub, with a frightening rallying cry to his men.
In its beauty and romanticism, the film resembles “The Year of Living Dangerously” while other aspects drum up “Apocalypse Now Redux.” A synth score by “The Story of My Death’s” Joe Robinson & Marc Verdaguer adds to this feeling of the past in the present. “Pacifiction” is a mesmerizing immersion into natural splendor and foreign chicanery.
Robin's Review: B+
As usual, for me, I cringed when I learned that director and co-writer (with Baptiste Pinteaux) Albert Serra’s latest work has a run time of two hours and 45 minutes. I am a firm believer that the average movie should be 90 minutes and so-called “epic” films should be held to two hours, tops.
That said, the combination of a gorgeous locale (Polynesia ain’t a shabby place), beautiful cinematography by Artur Tort and a terrific, understated performance by Benoit Magimel as the French High Commissioner for the island paradise made “Pacifiction” an oddball treat.
Commissioner de Roller is the ranking French official in the Polynesian possession and deals with his day to day duties with serious deliberation. He also helps design a new floor show dance at his favorite night club and must deal with the arrival of a French Navy Admiral and his men and an unexpected military presence.
All of De Roller’s problems and issues, including a rebellious faction wanting home rule, pale when he learns of a rumor running rampant across the island. There is a mysterious submarine lurking off shore and word is out that the French government is planning to resume nuclear testing.
So, for a film that is lyrically quiet and flows sloooowly along, there is a lot of stuff happening to keep your interest – especially the carefully designed dance number. Benoit Magimel, as said, is terrific, but there is another, striking character playing opposite him. Pahoa Mahagafanau, ambiguous sexually, plays Shannah, a woman who has her own ambitions to be de Roller’s secretary and assistant, and intrigues whenever on screen.
I cannot say that “Pacifiction” will appeal to the average movie-goer out there but certainly caught my eye.
Grasshopper Films released "Pacifiction" in select theaters on 2/17/23. Click here for expanding play dates.