Albert Serra’s Pacifiction opens in a Tahitian nightclub. Bathed in unappealing pink lighting and playing music that sounds almost ghostly in nature as its semi-naked staff serve cocktails to the bemused clientele, the scene is imbued with a feverish, dreamlike atmosphere punctuated with notes of Lynch and Winding Refn. It’s here we meet De Roller (Benoît Magimel) in his sleek white suit and tired expression. He’s the French high commissioner and, as the highest-ranking government official on the island, he’s something of a godfather-like figure, whom people turn to for advice. However, he does so with all the practised platitudes of an experienced politician.
Upon hearing of the islanders’ concerns over rumours that the French government are planning to restart nuclear testing in the area, his own years of experience in politics have made him cynical and mistrustful about the world as he begins to ponder if there could be any truth to this talk.
Serra’s Tahitian paradise, coloured with an eerily strange atmosphere, is similar in tone to Winding Refn’s LA in The Neon Demon, in which a grimy seediness bubbles through every aspect of the otherwise picturesque location. The indigenous dancers’ rehearsal, for example, is hypnotic and bursting with energy, but takes on sleazier connotations when De Roller associates the dance’s narrative with his passion for cockfighting. Much as vanity was the scourge of Los Angeles, colonialism is the sickness that’s turned this island paradise into a nightmarish netherworld that could be facing an apocalyptic event.
The more De Roller floats around the island to speak to the locals and other politicians, the more symptoms of this sickness emerge. At almost three hours long, though, there isn’t enough narrative substance to justify the gigantic runtime. Although the deliberate inertia adds to the dreamlike weirdness of the film, there are many sequences that are stretched out to the point of overkill; one scene towards the tail end doggedly observes a partygoer drunkenly swaying on the dance floor for over five minutes.
Pacifiction transforms a tropical paradise into an atmospheric fever dream that takes aim at colonialism and politics as it weaves a thoughtful character study. Unfortunately, its excessive length erases a great deal of the bizarre tone, to the detriment of the film.
Pacifiction is released in select cinemas on 21st April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Pacifiction here: