The opening image to that of Ariel Kleiman’s feature film debut Partisan, is a rather powerful, if somewhat unsubtle one. It’s of Vincent Cassel’s Gregori, carrying what appears to be a utility pole over his shoulder. With the wires across the middle sticking out either side, it resembles a cross, and he labours into the distance while it rests over his arched back – appearing just like, you guessed it, Jesus Christ. But let’s get this straight from the offset – this man is no saviour, despite the fact that’s exactly what he wants you to believe.

Gregori was on his way to a desolate landscape, to build a sequestered commune at a barren, forsaken area, to then make his way to the hospital, and manipulate new mothers to join his collective. It’s there he persuades his first victim, Susanna (Florence Mezzara) and her son, before we proceed 11 years into the future, where the young Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) have since been joined by several, vulnerable women and children. Gregori soon finds himself locking horns with the boy he considers to be his son, when the juvenile becomes curious about the outside world, as the domineering, tyrannical leader seeks to impose a sense of equanimity within his domain.

The opening act makes for a tense, disquieting watch, as you’re torn between two sentiments – as you struggle to comprehend this man’s actions, and what exactly he has up his sleeve. Is this commune a positive place, to help disadvantaged single mothers, and offering accommodation and food, raising their children in a seemingly tranquil environment, while academically schooling them in the process? Or is there something far more sinister at play? Is this man a nefarious oppressor who pries on vulnerable women? Not quite being sure makes for an intriguing beginning, though while you hope fervently for the former, deep inside, you expect, and fear, it’s going to be the latter.

What can’t be contested, however, is the quality of performance from Cassel, who is treacherous and maleficent in parts, manipulating susceptible adults and impressionable youths, and is so chilling with it. But that’s not all that is required of the performance, because he needs to maintain a sense of charisma and authority, for you to believe these people could be bewitched by his spell and fall for his ideology – and you never doubt the actor, for one second.