Dir: Albert Serra | Cast: Benoit Magical, Sergi Lopez, Alexandre Melo, Montse Triola, Michael Vautor, Pahoa Mahagafanau | Catalan, Thriller, 138′
Catalan auteur Albert Serra follows Liberte his voyeuristic foray into 18th century Berlin, with a kitschy French language feature set in the Polynesian Island of Tahiti where the tropical climate and sultry sun-drenched sunsets provide a hedonistic hideaway for a shadowy expat community headed by Benoit Magimel’s top ranking Haut-Commissaire De Roller, a soi-disant ‘representative of the state’. But behind his patina of charm seethes a cynic of savage mistrust.
The prowling voyeurs of Liberte are back again looming out of this palm-fringed neon twilight zone of cocktail bars and nightclubs, only this time it’s the 21st century, and the political landscape is uncomfortably familiar. Serra’s regular actor Marc Susini is a light-footed admiral of the submarine, and Sergi Lopez (Harry he’s here to Help) plays sleazy nightclub owner Morton. Montse Triola plays the token female, a published writer returning home. And there are go-go girls and boys a plenty and the sexually ambivalent De Roller seems enamoured with their trans lead dancer Shannah (Mahagafanau). But we gradually relax into this mellow milieu inhabiting the intoxicating torpor of the tropical tale and its weird protagonists.
Serra is not a man to be hurried and once again he takes time to flesh out his story led by antihero Romane De Roller: a bloated, besuited, supercilious, self-seeking bureaucrat who talks in repetitive platitude-strewn cliches, finishing his sentences with a token “voila”. Magimel is majestic in the role. Endless languorous days see him driven round the windswept island in a white Mercedes, visiting local mayors and claiming to have uncovered a rumour about the government starting nuclear testing again after twenty years, in a submarine located off the coast: You wouldn’t trust him to post a letter, let alone quell a conspiracy theory. And storm clouds soon threaten De Roller’s last days in paradise when a Alexandre Melo’s Portuguese diplomat turns up complaining to have been robbed of his papers. Is he a spy or a nuclear specialist? His appearance only adds to the sinister atmosphere of impending doom.
The most impressive scene takes place on the high waves during a surfing competition where a rip tide gives way to stratospheric ocean rollers. De Roller dices with death on the back of a jetski smugly declaring his mastership of land and sea: “I do what you do, but in politics”. Serra’s bizarre style may not suit everyone but he is undoubtedly one of the most avant-garde and distinctive filmmakers working today. MT
PACIFICTION in UK cinemas on 21 April 2023 | premiered at Cannes Film Festival 2022 and has since won 13 awards on the festival circuit |