In the most stunning sequence of Albert Serra's beloved Peace Ships, several small cruise ships navigate the gently rolling waters below them off the coast of Tahiti. Laughter and shouts of joy could be heard over the sound of rolling and breaking waves, which would very well have screamed when one of the boats capsized. But the captains do their jobs masterfully, and everyone just rides, jumps, and runs fast, but that doesn't quite take away the anxiety that this lingering, unsettlingly hypnotic film haunts. Floating in this Polynesian paradise, where sun-kissed tropical splendor gives way to neon-lit black, is harder than it sounds.
A particularly skilled driver is a man known only as De Roller (Benoit Magimel), who serves as the French High Commissioner in Tahiti. As De Roller wears his white suit and tropical-patterned shirt, he wears his authority lightly and quietly, peering through tinted sunglasses at the world he considers his own. It is a relic of European colonialism, representative of a weak but almost extinct state in the region. He is also a self-proclaimed expat and guide about the island and its various conflicting, overlapping agendas. A story that unfolds in a ghostly and metaphorical fog, its own motives remain unclear, preferring to hint at rather than solve mysteries.
In the evening, De Roller serves cocktails under umbrellas (not always easy to tell) in a bar packed with locals and visitors, with waiters in glow-in-the-dark T-shirts and bikinis. During the day, he entertains guests, gives speeches, gathers information and attends meetings, the most controversial of which is a local activist (the irascible Matahi Pambrew) who questions de Rollery about a disturbing development on the glorious peach horizon. France is rumored to be planning to resume nuclear testing around the island, indicated by the French marines we see arriving early with Deroller's next husband, the Admiral (Marc Sosini).
A situation reminiscent of the name "Peace" in a slow, action-challenging way in real life; Between 1966 and 1996, dozens of nuclear tests were conducted in Polynesia, resulting in approximately 110,000 people exposed to radiation and catastrophic casualties. For people and the environment. The like of which France has never known. Sometimes we hear an allusion to this victimization when a character describes the multiple cancers (breast, throat, thyroid) that a local woman suffered in succession. But these episodes are unseen and largely undramatic, such as the semi-scheme and the stolen passport of a Portuguese diplomat (Alexandre Mello) or the stolen conversation about the smuggling of Tahitian women aboard a French nuclear submarine. Image scrolling:
De Roller idly researches these issues while overseeing Tahiti's cultural and economic interests, presenting himself as a proud Frenchman, an adopted Tahitian, or a hapless broker. Perhaps you are reminded of one of Graham Greene's self-mocking anti-heroes. I myself am reminded of Lucrecia Martel's brilliant 2017 film Time Fell, about a Spanish minister who disappears into the South American sun in the 18th century. In this film, there is a constant descent of darkness into the Conradian heart, a sense of moral and physical decay, and the minister's identity crisis turns into murder and madness. The anti-colonial view of "pacification" is quieter, but perhaps more insidious. Where corrosion is largely hidden. (The most overt violence occurs between two roosters during a traditional cockfight dance.) De Roller is either completely unaware of the chaos on his shores, or wanders in casual control of it.
"I'm just making sure everything is in order," Derroller said during a meeting with a potential investor. But all is not well, and although Sera refuses to break Tahiti's own intoxicating spell, she believes you will understand. One of the film's most stunning widescreen panoramas (shot with Arthur Tort's digital camera) shows an open-air church surrounded by green palm trees, moss-covered mountains and cloudy blue skies; De Rolleri, who threatens the priest and claims that he will not oppose the opening of the upcoming casino. Scene after scene, Sera balances beauty and menace in an uneasy balance. He drew Heaven's Scourge, where the problem doesn't so much encompass Heaven as poisons it from within in an almost invisible slow drip.
This delightful aesthetic tension may explain why "Shaanti" emerges as one of Serra's more charming efforts, despite its sloppy editing, narrative confusion and running time of over 2 1/2 hours. It's a rare foray into the world of film from the Catalan director ("Birdsong," "The Death of Louis XIV"), known among festivalgoers and art-house audiences for his creative, sometimes macabre approach to literature and history. Modern Paranoia; He also has a very eccentric collaboration with Magimel which recently won him a César Award. For most of the shoot, Magimel had to read Serra's hastily composed lines and feed them to him through an earpiece; A strikingly intuitive choice for a character forced to maintain a gentle, cheerful existence in the face of so many external pressures and unknowns.
This improvisational approach informs Pacification as a whole, which, like many of Serra's works, displays documentary ingenuity and rigor. (It was filmed in August 2021 under Covid-19 restrictions, which no doubt explains its eerily sparse, slightly otherworldly feel.) This isn't the first time Serra's technique has challenged your desire for narrative clarity and resolution. But they are also its symptoms. A filmmaker who brings us the world in an exciting way. This is no more evident than when his camera falls on the strikingly beautiful Shanna (Pahoa Mahagfanau), a transgender woman who has never been far from the side of the D-roller.
We see Shanna as a hotel receptionist and dance instructor, but who is she in the film's intoxicatingly expansive story? girlfriend? Fatal to a woman? The soul of the world? It is not easy and difficult. He looks at you. Of the many mysteries in this film, he is the most interesting and perhaps the keeper of many more.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.