Art cinema maverick Albert Serra takes us on an unsettling tour of the French Polynesian tropics with his latest anti-epic, a tale of political paranoia set to a backdrop of disquieting picture postcard sunsets.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Pushing against the grain of grand, exotic storytelling in strangely hypnotic ways, Catalan director Albert Serra has enhanced his singular cinematic résumé with a contemporary thriller echoing Graham Greene and John le Carré—but in a sensual and structural form all of his own unconventional making.
Insidious in a tailored white suit and floral dress shirt, Benoît Magimel stars as De Roller, a shady high commissioner whose role is to rub shoulders with Tahitian citizens and maintain relations, all the while serving his own dubious agenda. As De Roller saunters around the island, flexing his bureaucratic muscle and leering at the locals like a modern-day Gauguin, there are even more sinister machinations afoot: comings and goings at a seamy nightclub, and in the nearby waters, a submarine and rumours of nuclear testing.
New Zealand’s anti-nuclear protests need no elaboration regarding France and the Pacific, except to say Serra’s fictional film is disturbingly close to home. The slow creep of Pacifiction’s commentary on imperial corruption and colonisation is deeply unnerving, while its mixing of prosaic documentary realism with vibrant widescreen visuals and deliberately opaque narrative—alongside occasional flourishes of chilling humour—is nothing short of uncanny. — Tim Wong
“What do you want when you already have paradise? That question looms over Albert Serra’s singularly mysterious cinematic immersion into Tahiti, Pacifiction. The indigenous Polynesians living there would likely argue that this paradise hasn’t been theirs in a long time. Serra... is yet another outsider coming to their shores, but he avoids the touristic travel-porn clichés of most movies set in some tropical locale... Set to its own tidal rhythm, it is one of the most beautiful and rigorously introspective movies of this or any year, a film that makes you deeply ponder the fate of humanity itself.” — Christian Blauvelt, Indiewire