Chicago International Film Festival 2016: The Confessions, by Aaron Pinkston
A group of characters from different backgrounds and parts of the world are brought together to a secluded location at the request of a troubled figurehead—with no other details, this may sound like a more diverse version of The House on Haunted Hill. Roberto Andò’s The Confessions uses this narrative set-up in the world of high stakes economic policy making (seriously, could you bring together things further apart on the excitement scale?).On its face, The Confessions is a well-made, beautifully shot and adequately structured pseudo thriller that ultimately has no interest in the details.
Specifically, the film takes place at an emergency G8 conference at a beautiful seaside resort hotel in a world that is something like ours. It is hinted that the world economy has completely collapsed, a magnitude worse than the 2008 mortgage crisis. Thusly, there is a controversial new plan being presented by the director of the International Monetary Fund that the G8 countries have gathered to consider, thought its effects (or really any information) is initially unknown.
Along with the G8 representatives, three others have been invited by the IMF director, Daniel Roché: an Italian monk, Robert Salus, under a vow of silence (Toni Servillo), a popular young adult novelist in the vein of J.K. Rowling (Connie Nielsen), and a flamboyant rock star (Johan Heldenbergh, The Broken Circle Breakdown). The night before the secret meeting commences, Roché calls on Roberto to hear and record his confession. The next morning, Roché is found in his room with a plastic bag over his head, an apparent suicide. The G8 representatives are left scrambling with the ramifications of the suicide with a global economic crisis at hand.
The film is structured by private conversations, including brief snippets of the fateful confession taken the previous night. Most of the plot details are shrouded in secrecy as certain members of the G8 group (the evil ones: Germany foremost, of course) hold sinister conversations and Roberto digs deeper into the morality of their plan. Parallelly, G8 officials and hotel staff are attempting to investigate the private monk and find the film’s MacGuffin in the form of a tape recorder thought to have been used during the confession. Throw in the YA author who finds an interest in protecting the monk while finding ample inspiration for her next work and The Confessions is an intricate balancing act.
As a thriller, The Confessions definitely does some things right. Through the gloomy soundtrack, lingering of the camera and the quietness of the characters there is an immense sense of dread, almost immediately. The cinematography uses every inch of its serene environment; every shot, from the open sea to the luxury suites, beautifully highlights the emptiness everywhere.
The shadowy nature of the plot information, however, quickly becomes frustrating. As the film goes on, the lack of specifics begins to feel more like narrative shortcuts than a more purposeful construction. As the prime example, the film never offers any real insights into the central economic plan, which ultimately makes it only the representation of evil. As the characters muse with the monk on their duty to the world, there is absolutely no nuance—we can only see them as pure evil, too. And despite the philosophical conversations, none of these characters prove to be deeply defined in any way. That said, it isn’t the fault of the cast, which is a diverse and experienced group. Servillo (The Great Beauty) is predictably good as the stoic monk with a potentially hidden side. Marie-Josée Croze (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Pierfrancesco Favino (Rush) are also highlights as two of the more conscious members of the G8 group.
By the end, the film itself becomes only philosophy and metaphor, the latter happening in a strangely mystical way that feels empty and confusing. Perhaps I was too locked into the promise of a closely contained thriller, but as the film moves on with one vague conversation after another, its focus on morality was too simple to keep the initial excitement. Putting moral philosophy up against the cold theories of economic structures is an admirable aim and I’d hope it could be tackled in a more nuanced or wholly satisfying way. The Confessions, sadly, isn’t it.