[Cinéma] “Peace”, heaven or hell

In the intoxicating Pacifiction, by Albert Serra, Benoît Magimel embodies a senior official stationed in Tahiti, whom the rumor of a resumption of French nuclear tests in the Pacific will make paranoid. Total and unprecedented cinema.

In the space of thirty years (1966-1996), nearly 200 nuclear tests were carried out by France in French Polynesia. If Jacques Chirac, then President of the Republic, had indeed announced their definitive cessation at the beginning of 1996 after having ordered a last campaign, the insolent Albert Serra spread the rumor of a resumption of nuclear tests in this lost paradise, tormenting the spirit of the High Commissioner of the Republic De Roller (Benoît Magimel), who will lead his investigation.

Unfairly left empty-handed from the last Cannes Film Festival, where he was competing for the Palme d’Or, pacification is a unique object unlike any other. It is certainly difficult not to see in it reminiscences of Twin Peaksjust as we can compare his hero, gnawed by psychosis under his versatile carcass, to those imagined by the writers Joseph Conrad or Herman Melville.

With, in addition, a hint of Don Quixote, a clever way for the Spanish director to close an open circle with Cavalry honor (2006), his impossible and absurd reinvention of the Cervantes myth. A bit of Joseph K. from Court case Kafka, too… High Commissioner De Roller is thus at the crossroads of heroes, antiheroes, madmen and losers, equal to himself in a beige linen suit and bluish glasses in an unstable world.

One of my obsessions has always been to create new images and situations in the cinema

Heaven or hell, the question remains unanswered in this place of stunning beauty and sublimely staged. Like Gauguin and Brel before him, Albert Serra captures the splendor of the islands, while making them the little theater of an underworld, a kind of microcosm that would have made Tahiti the last place on Earth: an admiral who likes to spend his nights in a discotheque (the aptly named Paradise), a clan leader with firm claims, local elected officials, strange businessmen who may be hiding foreign agents… So many parts that feed De Roller’s paranoia. Because “most of the film takes place in the head of this affable and enigmatic man”, as Albert Serra explains.

After a slew of costume films, including The Death of Louis XIV (2016) and Freedom (2019), Serra masterfully stages the contemporary world, which he considers “exciting”. “But I do it without ideology, without any preconceived idea or desire to carry the slightest discourse on the time (…) Only the images interest me.”

This is perhaps one of the reasons why the director sought his inspiration far from geopolitical questions, more inspired by the Tahitian Tarita Tériipaia, ex-wife of Marlon Brando who, in his memoirs, underlines “the contrasts (…) between the purity of his childhood in Papeete and the sometimes harmful presence of Westerners”. Condensed by Albert Serra, we arrive at “a relationship between a dream paradise and real corruption, but also between a certain reality and the cinema”.

“I find current films horribly explanatory and didactic”

The film’s title alone sums up this plunge into the stories we tell (to ourselves), without necessarily managing to relate them to reality. So yes, pacification is a blurry film; that is its whole raison d’être. The viewer almost merges with the hero, as was the case with the detective played by Jack Nicholson and the unfathomable mystery of Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974): “(The public) shares directly this kind of paranoia that the character, while keeping an Olympian calm, walks with him and whose object is, it is the least that one can say , not clear”, analyzes Albert Serra. But with him – unlike Polanski – the sense of reality, quite tangible, is never far away.

In the gray zone that covers the distance between reality and paranoia – true and false, real and fiction – the director remains faithful to his “obsession” “to create images and situations never before seen in cinema”. Like this bizarre relationship between De Roller and Shanna, the hotel receptionist, right arm and possible lover of the civil servant. Another mystery… Albert Serra: “I find current films horribly explanatory and didactic. I have the impression that they are aimed at children to whom everything should be constantly explained (…) Films are often analyzes of films. Quite the opposite of what I am looking for: pure creation, the risk that someone takes by launching themselves without knowing in advance what they are going to do.

Magimel finds one of its best roles

From island to island, from social reception to closed-door negotiations, De Roller maintains a phlegm that seems unfailing. Alternately talkative, silent, pleasant, cynical, without ever losing sight of his quest or his conscience, the character is embodied by a monstrous Benoît Magimel in the reincarnation of Gérard Depardieu, never motionless – on foot, dancing, in his Mercedes or in a jet-ski, De Roller travels the islands with, for only weapon, his binoculars, hoping to see a submarine appear here or there – and distributor of punchlines.

“Stop with your “my friend”, we are not friends (…) I am not speaking to you as equals, you have just emerged from the egg”, he cuts to the young clan leader in a anthology sequence, whose dialogues were, as in the rest of the film, improvised. In the Serra method (three cameras which turn at the same time and continuously, and the actors free to invent), Magimel finds one of its best roles. Anyway, insists the filmmaker, it was “him and no one else!”.

pacificationby Albert Serra.

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[Cinéma] “Peace”, heaven or hell

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