The Con­fes­sions

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

THE CON­FES­SIONS, drama, not rated; in English, Ital­ian, French, and Ger­man with sub­ti­tles; Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, 3 chiles

G-8 fi­nance min­is­ters have as­sem­bled for an emer­gency meet­ing at a lux­ury lake­side ho­tel in Ger­many to plot the fate of a world in eco­nomic cri­sis. One of them will be found dead in the morn­ing with a plas­tic bag tied over his head, an ap­par­ent sui­cide. It sounds like the setup for an Agatha Christie tale, and you might ex­pect the other del­e­gates to die by var­i­ous pic­turesque means, un­til there are none. But that is not where this movie is go­ing.

The di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, and the big cheese pre­sid­ing over the gath­er­ing, is the French del­e­gate, Daniel Roché (Daniel Au­teuil). In ad­di­tion to the fi­nance min­is­ters, he has in­vited three out­siders to at­tend — rock star Michael Wintzl ( Jo­han Helden­bergh), best­selling young adult nov­el­ist Claire Seth (Con­nie Nielsen), and Roberto Salus (Toni Servillo), a white-robed Ital­ian monk and pub­lished philoso­pher who has taken a break from his vow of si­lence to an­swer the sum­mons. Why on earth? you may well won­der, and you will find lit­tle to sat­isfy with re­gards to the first two in­ter­lop­ers.

The monk turns out to have been in­vited for a pur­pose so spe­cific that it in­vests the movie with its ti­tle. Roché, an avid reader of his books, wants Salus to hear his con­fes­sion. The singer seems to be there only to en­liven the pro­ceed­ings with a ren­di­tion of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and to try to se­duce the YA writer. She in turn seems pri­mar­ily on hand to spy on the monk through a key­hole of their con­nect­ing rooms, and to warn him that he is in dan­ger.

At the open­ing ban­quet, Roché ad­dresses the com­pany with a bit of wis­dom with which he says he is sure they must all be fa­mil­iar, the Para­ble of the Ap­ples. He holds up an ap­ple, and lets it fall onto the ta­ble, where it shat­ters a wine glass. “For bet­ter or for worse,” he in­tones, “we are not God, and we can­not fore­see all the con­se­quences of our ac­tions.” That night, he sum­mons Salus to his room and asks the monk to hear his con­fes­sion. Roché is suf­fer­ing from ter­mi­nal cancer. We know he is con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide, be­cause when he ex­cuses him­self and goes to the bath­room to take some pain pills, he tests wrap­ping a plas­tic bag over his head, but tears it off in a panic. In the morn­ing he is found dead in a chair in his room, suf­fo­cated, his head en­cased in that bag.

Un­der­stand­ably, this sends shock waves through the meet­ing, but the other min­is­ters de­cide to press on with their mon­e­tary plan, a scheme so dra­co­nian that it will de­stroy weaker economies and plunge millions into poverty and de­spair. A cou­ple of the more sen­si­tive del­e­gates are trou­bled by the harsh­ness of the pre­scrip­tion, but the tougher ones see the fall­out as ac­cept­able col­lat­eral dam­age. If any word of this plan were to leak out pre­ma­turely, it would be a catas­tro­phe for this Machi­avel­lian band of con­spir­a­tors. And so the fact that Salus heard Roché’s con­fes­sion just be­fore his death makes the monk pos­si­bly privy to the de­tails, and there­fore a threat. Add to this that he has been seen with a pocket dig­i­tal recorder, on which he could have cap­tured Roché’s con­fes­sion; al­though he ex­plains that he bought it at the air­port be­cause he likes to record bird­songs. Add to this the fact that the recorder has mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared. Add to this the fact that the lethal plas­tic bag is the one in which Salus car­ried the recorder.

Di­rec­tor Roberto Andò (Long Live Free­dom, also star­ring Servillo) con­structs this philo­soph­i­cal thriller as a stylish who­dunit with­out the cen­tral el­e­ment of a mur­der (which is men­tioned but never con­sid­ered se­ri­ously as an op­tion in Roché’s death). It be­comes in­stead an ex­is­ten­tial bat­tle be­tween good and evil. The lat­ter is rep­re­sented by the min­is­ters (played by Pier­francesco Favino, Andy de la Tour, Marie-Josée Croze, Togo Igawa, Richard Sam­mel, Stéphane Freiss, John Keogh, and Alek­sei Guskov). The for­mer is of course per­son­i­fied by the monk, who speaks spar­ingly but al­ways wisely and to the point, and who af­firms un­com­pro­mis­ingly the ex­is­tence of a God who mon­i­tors ev­ery move we make. In the con­fes­sional ses­sion with Roché, to which Andó re­turns pe­ri­od­i­cally in flash­back through­out the film, Salus sug­gests that hu­man de­cency should be a more pow­er­ful guid­ing prin­ci­ple than fi­nan­cial gain, a sug­ges­tion the IMF di­rec­tor waves away with a sad, world-weary smile.

The lush pro­duc­tion, with its deep rich ex­te­rior colors and the spare white­ness of its in­te­ri­ors, its fine cast led by Servillo and Au­teuil, its ef­fec­tive score by Ni­cola Pio­vani, and the en­gag­ing philo­soph­i­cal con­tent of some of the di­a­logue, lets a viewer ride along plea­sur­ably for much of the way, with­out wor­ry­ing too much about the movie’s short­com­ings of plot. — Jonathan Richards

Blind faith: Daniel Au­teuil

Bul­let­proof monk: Toni Servillo

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