AKA LE CONFESSIONI
AVAILABLE ON VIDEO ON DEMAND: NOW
RUNNING TME: 108 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A G8 meeting is being held at a luxury hotel on the German coast. The world’s most powerful ministers, economists and bankers are gathered to enact important provisions that will deeply influence the world economy. One of the guests is mysterious Italian monk Roberto Salus. After dinner, the head of the IMF Daniel Roche summons Salus to his room to hear his confession, but the next morning, Roche is found dead with a plastic bag over his head, a bag that Salus used to store his little tape recorder. Did Salus record the confession? If so, where is the tape? What was the big secret that Roche gave away? And was the death really a suicide, or could it have been murder?
This unusual thriller most definitely has its heart in the right place, being an umistakedly savage attack on the people who decide where the money goes in the world and whom some might say are the real ones in charge, and I therefore wanted it like it far than I did. However, I realised about half way through that it wasn’t really going to do much more than present to us a series of secret meetings and hushed conversations in rooms and reiterate the film’s central theme over and over again while being fustratingly vague about many of the plot elements. Of course vagueness and an emphasis on dialogue are not neccessarily bad things in themselves and can work wonders in the right hands, but there were times during The Confessions where I really felt that writer/director Roberto Ando and his co-writer Angelo Pasquini were trying to sabotage their film, a film which seemed like it had great potential and was even of some importance, while containing some very good work indeed from its cast. This kind of subject matter works better when details are more concrete so we can be more outraged, and when there’s actually some urgency so we get more of a sense of the effect of what dreadful things these people might be getting up to as well as actually get worried for the safety of our hero. This film is often just content to dawdle and severely limit itself, and it’s a great shame.
So our hero is an elderly monk who’s taken a vow of silence though is willing to set it aside for this sojourn in a German hotel right by the sea. Right from the offset, Toni Servillo, looking like Fernando Ray, is rather mesmerising in the role and gives a real and appealing sense of wisdom and humility, despite being positively inscrutable at times and having many seeming eccentricities. Servillo doesn’t like to hear confessions because the sins of others bother him, would rather clean up after a meal instead of joining the other guests in a sing-along, prefers to draw pictures of birds for people instead of properly answering a question, and has written in one of his books that to commit suicide for others is not actually suicide. His best friend seems to be his tape recorder into which he utters cryptic messages and records birdsong. As a lapsed Catholic, I found it rather refreshing that in this day and age where it’s fashionable to attack Christianity, that a guy like Servillo was being portrayed in a largely positive light, and yet without it coming across as religious propaganda. Ando reserves his disdain, not to mention his hatred, for others.
The G8 gathering he’s been invited to interestingly still contains the Soviet Union. At the group’s initial dinner, the weekend’s sense of dramatic importance is underscored, but the intent is left entirely muddy. The meal is presided over by the head of the IMF, Daniel Roché , but there are incongruous elements to this gathering. Besides Salus, it inexplicably includes a famous author of children’s books Claire Seth who reminded me of J. K. Rowling and a rock star Michael Wintzl, who leads the group in a sing-along of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. Roche reveals that he was the one who invited these people, then, after dinner, Roche asks Salus to his room to hear his confession, though we cut away as soon as it begins. One effective device is that we gradually hear more of the confession in later flashbacks, the cutting back and forth being very fluid. Next morning and Roche is dead. The obvious culprit to everyone there has to be Salus, who was seen by Claire exiting Roche’s room and who not only seems to have recorded the confession [but by a tape recorder which has now conveniently disappeared], but actually asked for the closed circuit security cameras to be turned off. But of course we know it can’t be him. So who is it?….well, providing of course he was murdered in the first place and didn’t just take his own life.
In fact the script isn’t interested in going down whodunnit paths and it may have resulted in a more absorbing film if it had. There’s no doubt that there is a strong atmsphere to the films’s early scenes, the camera prowling the hotel’s deluxe interiors which reek of social privilege. The main colour scheme of red and white is well used and there’s some terrific use of black in Maurizio Calvesi’s cinematography which is outstanding throughout, especially during several scenes set in the hotel’s swimming pool which have a great texture to them. But despite all this one is never really in suspense, even when Salus has to hide in someone’s room. Instead, the moment is almost comic the way it’s thrown away, as are quite a few other scenes. It’s soon suspected that Roche told Salus of some kind of vastly important plan, and the G8 ministers want Salus to reveal what he knows, though, in a variant of the typical I, Confess [which is even name checked] idea of a priest being unable to reveal the identity of a murderer who’s confessed in him, he can’t reveal what Roche told him because it was during a confession. It seems that two representatives are wavering, and that Salus and Claire are forming some kind of bond in scenes that really are excellently played by Servillo and Connie Nielsen. The latter is especially good when she suggests his character’s attraction to this man, an attraction that isn’t sexual or romantic but seems to be something deeper. However, for much of the time we are presented with little more than the purity of the saintly and possibly even magical Salus pitted in conversation against this shifty political cabal which appears to be led by a stern woman on a laptop, and it eventually gets tired.
The financial system is designed to make the rich people and countries richer and the poor poorer. Its leaders shirks responsibility for any bad effects of their actions. Many important decisions are discussed and decided upon behind closed doors in the opposite to demoncracy. “Banks are the ultimate secret societies and, like the Mafia, they answer to know one” says one character. Well….STOP THE PRESS! We’re not really told anything in this film that we don’t know or don’t at least suspect, so I haven’t bothered to add a spoiler warning to these reviews even if this pretends that the things it says are big revelations. And eventually I even begun to tire of Salus and his sanctimony. Everything is just presented in black and white and you’re rammed over the head by the messaging, while the supposed thriller aspect falls far short of being thrilling. In a film spoken in English, French and Italian, all the cast do their very best despite the people they’re playing often coming across as little more than mouthpieces. Pierfrancisco Favino does especially well as the Italian Minister despite hardly ever uttering dialogue that seems natural, while Daniel Auteuil shines in his important role and you’re not sure whether to hate his character or feel sympathy for him. A very fine score by Nicola Piovani also seems to be trying its very hardest to improve things and it certainly does add a sinister mood at times. But in general, The Confessions is well intentioned but frustrating….though I’m still tempted to recommend it partially as it is quite different.