The Confessional, the feature debut from Quebec theater whiz Robert Lepage, is exactly the sort of stunning, eye-popping visual and sonic treat that one would expect from this innovative stage helmer.
Where this engrossing French-lingo pic falters is at the script level: plot lacks full dramatic development and, in the end, falls short of delivering the emotional depth necessary to move audiences. Still, there is no shortage of stylish highs along the way.
Lepage starts with the intriguing idea of setting story partly in Quebec City in 1952, when Alfred Hitchcock was lensing I Confess there. Pic opens with the sleepy, old-fashioned, picturesque city slowly moving into the modern era, thanks to the introduction of television and its first encounter with Hollywood via the Hitchcock production.
Hitchcock (portrayed by Brit look-alike Ron Burrage) is shown at the local preem of I Confess, and Lepage’s film, which is loosely inspired by the Montgomery Clift starrer, contains several scenes from the Hitchcock original.
Throughout, Lepage keeps viewers on their toes by cutting between events in the early ’50s and 1989, when lead character Pierre Lamontagne (Lothaire Bluteau) returns from China to his native Quebec City for his father’s funeral. At first, Pierre cannot find his adopted brother, Marc (Patrick Goyette). They finally meet in a beautifully shot, dreamy sequence in a gay sauna.
Pic keeps coming back to the making of I Confess as Hitchcock’s assistant (Kristin Scott Thomas) negotiates with local church authorities, arranges auditions for the director and generally fails to communicate adequately with the French-speaking locals.
If there’s a problem with lack of emotional punch, it’s at least partly due to Bluteau, who once again delivers a sullen, doe-eyed performance.