Article by: Irma Benedetto

Translated by: Alice Bettinelli

When approaching the work of Albert Serra, we cannot help but notice the great contradiction at the heart of his cinema: that between the setting of his images, which nestle in the past of the European history (from the 1980s of his debut film to the 1700s French – his favourite historical period – of La mort de Louis XIV and Liberté) and the sense of atrophy, of an absolute and out-of-time present that apocalyptically pervades his characters, always waiting for a climax that will never come, or that perhaps has already arrived.


A spasmodic wait for the end that becomes nuclear paranoia for a Benoît Magimel called to play the ambiguous protagonist of Pacifiction, a diplomatic commissioner who has arrived in the former French colony of Tahiti to try to investigate unsettling rumours of an imminent resumption of dangerous atomic tests. Serra works on the extreme stylisation and opacity of the characters and on the exhibited artificiality of lights – as was already the case in the unforgettable finale of Liberté – to create a highly suggestive visual texture, a floating and uncertain space in which it is possible to perceive the abstraction of power in all its ruthless and pervasive senselessness. It is between half-voices and hints that the protagonist De Roller – designated intermediary between the politicians and the population – probes the island moving as if in a limbo – a somnambulist wandering in what seems to be an only-apparent state of life. The viewer is restrained in the hypnotic movement of the film, which concedes few clues and casts wide, unresolved grey areas, constantly moving to an unknowable off-screen that weights like an omen.

To duplicate and amplify the feeling of threat that travels under the skin, there is the eerie presence of the ocean, which with its surface engulfs and conceals. De Roller is driven by a desire for clarity that will never become tangible reality. In the most important dialogue-monologue of the film, the protagonist talks about a world that has lost the conception of time and memory, of a humanity that must have as its primary need that to illuminate, to see the withered skins of power that have already been embodied by the exposed and dying body of Jean-Pierre Léaud in La mort de Louis XIV. With Pacifiction, Serra continues his work on the perception of the present and the invisible decomposition of a frozen and motionless time, aiming his gaze for the first time at contemporaneity.

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