March 23, 2023

The threat of nuclear testing provides some urgency, but not much. And while De Roller makes for a charming cypher, he’s not always the main subject of “Pacifiction.” Sometimes it’s the Admiral, Shannah, or Matahi. Usually, “Pacifiction” revolves around De Roller’s insinuating questions and placating gestures, which only reveal his own impotence. He drunkenly compares “politics” to a nightclub that’s completely shut off from reality. De Roller also says that he wants to throw on the lights, just to look into “their defeated faces one by one,” but he never does, and it’s never clear who “they” might be.

De Roller’s paranoia speaks for itself. Does he know anything about nuclear tests? Maybe, but not enough to stop him from wordlessly prowling the island with a pair of binoculars, looking for French Marines and/or Matahi’s group of disaffected natives. Maybe there will be a conflict someday. Not in “Pacifiction,” of course, but you can imagine something like that happening given the voracious emptiness lurking behind De Roller’s easy patter, his white linen suit, his horn-rimmed sunglasses, and his tart smile.

Magimel capably sells his character, but Serra doesn’t say much about De Roller, whose devilish behavior is only so compelling. Banality is the point, as De Roller suggests when he casually dominates Matahi during a heated conversation: “You’re talking to a representative of the State.” Because De Roller is a High Commissioner representing France and his inaccessible nature is also very much the point of “Pacifiction.”

Or a point. “Pacifiction” takes place in yet another dark, exotic, and artificial in-between place, which is also the point. The distant hum of the surf, the woozy throb of the club’s bass, and the flickering silhouettes cast by disco ball lighting. Some Hawaiian shirts and bronzed skin; some irresolute dialogue about secret alliances and open secrets. This isn’t a story, but an evocative collection of asked-and-answered prompts. You buy a ticket to “Pacifiction” and then you react, until the nudging stops.

Now playing in select theaters. 

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