Ambiguity is as ambiguity does in “Pacifiction,” a 165-minute French echo chamber drama that always appears to be extra about its personal narrative’s open-endedness than its Tahitian setting, punchy French politicians, or woozy dealmaking. “Pacifiction,” the newest baroque provocation from author/director Albert Serra, follows—however not too shut!—the smirking De Curler (Benoît Magimel), a smooth-talking French official who’s extra slippery—and presumably harmful?—than he seems.
De Curler greases quite a lot of wheels and maintains quite a lot of static, mutually helpful relationships. He’s additionally a human-shaped masks and a logo of political insecurity in a former colony that, in “Pacifiction,” continues to be influenced by lingering collectors. Everyone appears to be like to De Curler for help as rumors of nuclear testing unfold throughout the island. He’s predictably unhelpful, as a result of how may he be? He symbolizes one hand washing the opposite advert infinitum; he’s a comically vacant hustler. De Curler’s banal and unrevealing habits additionally ultimately displays his creators’ shallowness.
Everyone’s a storyteller in “Pacifiction,” however their scheming isn’t as compelling as their collaboration’s blunt seamlessness. In dreamy medium close-ups, we see Tahiti as a nightclub the place late-night discussions prolong and sag previous coherence. Excessive-powered males, like De Curler or the French Admiral (Marc Susini)—whom De Curler continuously chases after—nonetheless by no means absolutely tip their arms. They hiss at and even discuss all the way down to locals, just like the strident however chilly organizer Matahi (Matahi Pambrun) or the self-absorbed Shannah (Pahoa Mahagafanau), who says that she hopes to switch De Curler’s assistant.
De Curler’s flirtatious reassurances and easy-going questions proceed with no clear finish or objective. He dismisses conservative island elders, but additionally talks solicitously to a Christian priest, about low church attendance and methods of attracting new followers. De Curler additionally pours a drink for an already hungover Portuguese diplomat (Alexandre Melo) after which tells a lodge worker that Melo, enjoying an unresponsive vacationer, clearly can’t deal with his liquor. The diplomat’s passport has additionally gone lacking. De Roller suggests this kind of factor doesn’t normally occur in Tahiti, so you understand it have to be true.
De Curler will get together with Matahi in a single scene, however then overtly—although inconclusively—clashes with him. De Curler additionally cozies up with Shannah, whose ambiguous gender exemplifies Serra’s personal fetishistic curiosity in haziness as a rebuke to narrative and symbolic tidiness. Within the film’s press notes, Serra applauds himself for his illustration of De Curler and Shannah’s “undefined relationship,” which he thinks could be “one thing that has by no means been seen in a movie earlier than.” I’ve my doubts, particularly since De Curler asks for Shannah’s contact info after he calls her a “carnivorous beast” and a “lioness.” She responds by smiling and writing down her info in De Curler’s little black e book. Does she like the eye? Does she like De Curler? It doesn’t actually matter, however neither does the immutable stasis that this relationship apparently represents.
The specter of nuclear testing supplies some urgency, however not a lot. And whereas De Curler makes for a captivating cypher, he’s not at all times the primary topic of “Pacifiction.” Typically it’s the Admiral, Shannah, or Matahi. Normally, “Pacifiction” revolves round De Roller’s insinuating questions and placating gestures, which solely reveal his personal impotence. He drunkenly compares “politics” to a nightclub that’s utterly shut off from actuality. De Curler additionally says that he desires to throw on the lights, simply to look into “their defeated faces one after the other,” however he by no means does, and it’s by no means clear who “they” could be.
De Curler’s paranoia speaks for itself. Does he know something about nuclear checks? Perhaps, however not sufficient to cease him from wordlessly prowling the island with a pair of binoculars, in search of French Marines and/or Matahi’s group of disaffected natives. Perhaps there shall be a battle sometime. Not in “Pacifiction,” in fact, however you may think about one thing like that occuring given the voracious vacancy lurking behind De Curler’s simple patter, his white linen go well with, his horn-rimmed sun shades, and his tart smile.
Magimel capably sells his character, however Serra doesn’t say a lot about De Curler, whose devilish habits is simply so compelling. Banality is the purpose, as De Curler suggests when he casually dominates Matahi throughout a heated dialog: “You’re speaking to a consultant of the State.” As a result of De Curler is a Excessive Commissioner representing France and his inaccessible nature can also be very a lot the purpose of “Pacifiction.”
Or a degree. “Pacifiction” takes place in one more darkish, unique, and synthetic in-between place, which can also be the purpose. The distant hum of the surf, the woozy throb of the membership’s bass, and the flickering silhouettes solid by disco ball lighting. Some Hawaiian shirts and bronzed pores and skin; some irresolute dialogue about secret alliances and open secrets and techniques. This isn’t a narrative, however an evocative assortment of asked-and-answered prompts. You purchase a ticket to “Pacifiction” and you then react, till the nudging stops.