Serra’s latest ‘slow cinema’ effort is at times hypnotic and beguiling, though it isn’t always consistently rewarding as he weaves a tale set in Tahiti about a stagnating High Commissioner who becomes privy to the prospect of something unimaginably nightmarish happening to his beloved French Polynesian island.
Dir. Albert Serra
2022 | France/Spain | Drama | 162 min | 2.39:1 | French & English
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some nudity and sexual references
Cast: Benoit Magimel, Sergi Lopez, Pahoa Mahagafanau
Plot: Island of Tahiti. French government official De Roller is a calculating man with impeccable manners, capable of dealing with both high society and the locals he frequents in shady joints.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or & Queer Palm (Cannes)
International Sales: Films Boutique
Subject Matter: Moderate – Political Inaction; Indigenous Communities
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Albert Serra’s pictures are an acquired taste, from the sublime The Death of Louis XIV (2016) to the excruciatingly opaque Liberte (2019).
His latest yarn, Pacifiction, is, as its title seems to cryptically suggest, a fictional tale set in the Pacific islands. More specifically, we find ourselves in Tahiti, basking in her Zen-like environment of sea and sky.
It is Serra’s most ravishingly beautiful film yet. Beneath the veneer of calm and tranquillity, however, High Commissioner De Roller (Benoit Magimel, who is best known for being seduced by Isabelle Huppert in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001)) finds himself sliding into oblivion as he becomes privy to the prospect of something unimaginably nightmarish happening to his beloved French Polynesian island.
“I’ll go where the wind blows.”
There is not much of a plot to begin with, but Serra doesn’t appear to care one bit—as a result, Pacifiction feels like it is perpetually drifting for its 160-odd minute runtime. “I’ll go where the wind blows”, says De Roller, and that very much sums up Serra’s ‘slow cinema’ approach.
The film may be hypnotic and beguiling at times, but it isn’t always consistently rewarding, and may be an endurance test for some. Having said that, Pacifiction may be his most accessible effort to date.
There is an extraordinary sequence involving huge waves and boats which must be incredibly challenging to get on film. Unfortunately, that is the only ‘exciting’ thing that happens in Pacifiction, though the entire film has a creeping sense of quiet dread, which Serra doesn’t quite amplify to his advantage.