The review of Pacifiction – An underwater world, a film by Albert Serra set in Tahiti and starring Benoit Magimel.
The radical and repelling cinema of Albert Serra softens in contact with the tropical paradise of Pacifiction – An underwater world, hypnotic film of almost three hours. After the passage in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2022, Pacifiction arrives at the cinema thanks to the collaboration between Mubi and Movies Inspired, which distributes the film in theaters despite the 165 minute duration. 165 minutes which, on paper, could be summed up in a handful of words. Pacifiction in fact, it follows the wanderings of Benoit Magimel, regenerated after addiction problems and legal troubles that have befallen him, in the role of De Roller, High Commissioner for French Polynesia.
In Tahiti, De Roller feels at ease, moves with ease. Over time, the politician has created a network of relationships and alliances with the locals that allows him to keep the situation on the island under control while he carries on his worldly routine. But the echoes of French politics come to threaten his paradise. Rumors of new nuclear tests twenty years after Mururoa spread among the Tahitians, who threatened to take to the streets to demonstrate with or without De Roller’s approval. Meanwhile, a mysterious admiral appears on the island and in the evening he dedicates himself to the good life in the clubs while the local girls embark towards the open sea to amuse his sailors housed in a submarine whose location nobody knows. De Roller feels that the situation is getting out of hand and tries to remedy it, but maybe it’s too late.
A hypnotic film
Films of atmospheres and encounters rather than events, Pacifiction it possesses a typical feature of David Lynch’s cinema: the quality of the dream, more often than the nightmare. Gigantic in the role of De Roller, the protagonist Benoit Magimel he wanders around with a slow gait, like a sleepwalker. White suit, glasses with blue lenses, blond hair slicked back and heavy physique, we see him slowly eating his meal while the natives ask him for an audience to express their concerns, approach men confidently and discreetly court women or spread his arms with eyes closed in the rain, as if in the grip of a spell. Magimel is present in every single scene of the film. Mostly he just sits and thinks over plans to defend his position facing the sea or surrounded by nature, enjoying the quiet of the island. Even when he decides to take action, scouring the bay in the middle of the night in search of the submarine he suspects exists, he does it his way, hostage to the languor that envelops the film.
Albert Serra seeks restlessness in beauty in restlessness and transforms a paradise of flaming sunsets, windswept palm trees and wave-beaten beaches into a place on the brink of catastrophe. The splendid widescreen panoramas, slow and insistent to give the viewer time to fully enjoy them, mark the stages of a threat that hangs over the characters without ever revealing itself. We sense that the tide is about to change from the exchanges between De Roller and the locals, to whom he relates with paternalistic condescension. Immersing ourselves in the languid and rarefied atmosphere, we gradually become aware of the vague alarm signals scattered here and there by the Catalan director. Uneasiness surrounds the long nocturnal sequences in which the characters dance as if under hypnosis to the obsessive rhyme of the dance and the owner of the club himself, the European immigrant Morton, played by Sergi López, is an almost spectral presence, appearing in various scenes without never utter a word. Also full of potential threats is the twilight sequence of the girls embarking on the waves to go to the military while De Roller and his collaborator peer at them from behind the vegetation.
The languid flow of events
Refined and introspective, Pacifiction it is a dense film, full of the unsaid that the viewer is called upon to interpret by catching every single detail, every intention of the characters that transpires from their looks, their gestures or their words. In a state of grace, Benoit Magimel perfectly embodies the instances of Albert Serra’s cinema. De Roller’s cynicism goes hand in hand with his detachment, his kindness mixes with distrust of others and the subtle political skills that lead him to always tell the interlocutor what he wants to hear. While confiding in friends seeking advice, he shares no real intimacy with anyone, not even with the beautiful Shanna, played by transgender actress Pahoa Mahagafanau, to whom he proposes to become his informant when he leaves Tahiti at the end of his mandate.
While not showing a single sex scene, Pacifiction – An underwater world is an extremely sensual film, but with a crepuscular and deadly sensuality. Like every other intention inherent in the film, the intimate relationships between the characters are only cryptically suggested. When Shanna takes care of the Portuguese diplomat without a passport and under the influence of drugs, we perceive a shiver of jealousy from De Roller, who shares a passionless intimacy with his would-be lover. And the little boat loaded with girls destined to please the French sailors is full of omens of death “who return in pitiful condition”, as De Roller himself explains to the admiral, as well as the homo-erotic dances involving the admiral and the locals at the club. A shiver runs down the viewer’s spine even in the most spectacular scene, when De Roller invites guests on one of the boats that carry surfers out to sea, where majestic waves crash in the Pacific. Bowing to the flow of events, without resisting, is the lesson learned by the character of Benoît Magimel, and we with him. And Albert Serra’s film glorifies its location by shaping itself as a work of art in its image and likeness: an exotic paradise that languishes in anticipation of an imminent change.
As our review of Pacifiction – An underwater world reveals, the new film by Albert Serra is a hypnotic and intriguing film that mixes political reflections and the representation of a world on the verge of decline by exploiting the impeccable interpretation of the French actor Benoit Magimel and the suggestive tropical location of Tahiti.
Because we like it
- The masterful interpretation of Benoit Magimel, body and soul of the film.
- The spectacular Polynesian locations.
- The charm that transpires from every single shot thanks to the sensual and intriguing atmosphere created by director Albert Serra.
- The characterization of the characters through small significant details.
- The duration, which tests the viewer.