The Confessions, 2016
Directed by Roberto Andò.
Starring Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino, Connie Nielsen, Lambert Wilson, Marie-Josée Croze, and Moritz Bleibtreu.
At G8 meeting in Germany, a monk invited by director of the International Monetary Fund ends up thrust into the middle of a murder investigation while navigating a web of international intrigue.
While watching Roberto Andó’s lovely new thriller The Confessions, it’s hard not to think of American TV’s Father Dowling or ITV’s more recent Grantchester. The appeal of those shows, and the appeal of The Confessions, is in the inherent goodness of the holy, crime-solving protagonist. Here, that protagonist is Roberto Salus (Italian great Toni Servillo), a monk who strangely happens to be on the invite list for a G8 conference in Germany, alongside rock star Michael (Johan Heldenbergh) and author Claire (Wonder Woman’s Connie Nielsen) in addition to the assembly of foreign finance ministers.
Shortly after arrival, Roberto is asked by Daniel Roché, the director of the International Monetary Fund, to hear his confession. Roché is decidedly more Dominique Strauss-Kahn than Christine Lagarde in appearance, though he differs in surprising ways. Soon after the confession, Roché is found dead, but it is unclear as to whether it was a murder or a suicide. Of greater concern to the foreign ministers than the circumstances the death is what Roché told Roberto before he met his end.
Despite its handsome, classical structure and similarity to television crime dramas, Andò and co-writer Angelo Pasquini’s script is actually quite brave. In addition to the G8 setting and the inclusion of the IMF in the plot, the writers subvert history and insert Russia back into the G8 and also don’t back away from complex discussions of economics. They keep this all grounded, however, by balancing the political and economic talk against Roberto’s steady faith. His austere, uncomplicated goodness, portrayed beautifully by Servillo, matches up perfectly against the conflicted economists he comes up against.
Though the plot and its themes are effective, there are some notable missed opportunities. Given the presence of Michael and Claire, the stage is set for more discussion about the nature of art versus the nature of economics, but Andò underplays it, limiting the debate to a monologue by Roché’s lover Kis (Lambert Wilson in an effective cameo) and table chatter between Claire and the finance ministers.
The production is gorgeous, and the fact that the production is primarily set in a luxury hotel in Germany’s Heiligendamm resort town is only enhanced by cinematographer Maurizio Calvesi’s crystal clear work. Nicola Piovani score is exceptional, even funny at times, and is so active in the film that it feels like a character in itself. And though the dialogue is split between English, French and Italian (with others popping in as well), it is always easy to understand. Performances are top notch, particularly Servillo in the lead role. His dark, wounded gaze works wonders, and though his role is often quiet his expressions speak volumes. Marie-Josée Croze is memorable as the Canadian minister, and Nielsen is reliably excellent though surprisingly sweet and gentle for an actor whose most famous roles are imperious royals.
Though The Confessions doesn’t break a ton of new ground, it is a smart, unique take on very current events. The writers are obviously well versed in their subject here, but rather than turn the film into a lesson, it is instead and effective thriller and a powerful examination on the place of faith in what is widely considered to be a faithless discipline. Though it will look particularly familiar to fans of television shows about murder-solving geriatrics, The Confessions has an abundance of intelligence and is put together with deft care, helping it to rise above its counterparts.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★