"Torment on the Islands", the fascinating lost paradise of Albert Serra

“Torment on the Islands”, the fascinating lost paradise of Albert Serra

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A tough-skinned cliché would like the cinema to be used only to tell stories. It may also be that he is there not to tell them, but to turn around and leave it up to the viewer to smell that something fishy is going on on the screen. It is in this gray area between fiction and its underside that the latest and extraordinary feature film by Catalan dandy Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV, Freedom), this classy and impudent highwayman, promoted for the first time in competition. It must be said that the film, full of its one hundred and sixty-three minutes, has what it takes to create a stir by its combination of unexpected ingredients: either the star Benoît Magimel, immersed in the middle of the Pacific, in French Polynesia, in an obscure soup of “political thriller” which could well have only the name.

In the alliance of nature and the synthetic, it is the character’s own decay that is played out

In Tahiti, a man named De Roller (Magimel in a state of grace) walks around in a cream suit, colorful shirts and blue curaçao sunglasses, tightening his hands, collecting complaints, exercising his quiet interpersonal skills on the right and left. He could be a mafia boss or a nightclub owner, but the function he occupies is as official as possible: that of High Commissioner of the Republic, representing the French State in the community. Here and there, between private establishments and public salons, he makes an act of presence, feels the pulse and plays, as best he can, the reassuring mediators.

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Because, recently, the rumor swells about an imminent resumption of nuclear tests (everyone still remembers those of 1995). The discontent is heard and the separatists organize strong demonstrations. De Roller, worried, indeed notes that around the island there are obscure movements: an unidentified submarine anchored in territorial waters, a mysterious American with an emaciated face prowling around, an increased presence of the French Navy. The High Commissioner goes fishing for information, but nothing really makes sense.

A Gauguin-like color palette

From the thriller, the thread summons the paranoid side of the 1970s (Due to an assassinationby Alan J. Pakula, or Chinatown, by Roman Polanski), of which he refers some ostensible signs, such as this “helicopter” view of a stack of containers, suggesting from the outset the motive of obscure traffic. But the mechanics of the genre interests Serra less, accustomed to playing with already constituted figures (Dracula and Don Juan in Story of my death), than paranoia as both a mental and cinematographic machine, a projection machine.

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