Roberto Andò takes great delight in destabilizing established orders, if only on-screen. In 2013’s euphoriant “Long Live Freedom,” he substituted a worn-out center-left politician with his over-the-top twin brother — a philosopher just released from the psychiatric hospital — who ultimately proved to be a much more popular and visionary candidate. Now, in his quasi-metaphysical thriller “The Confessions,” the Italian director disrupts a G8 summit by slipping in a mysterious and unorthodox monk, casting the same actor (Italian idol Toni Servillo) in the lead. As Andò told audiences before the film’s premiere at the Karlovy Vary film fest, “‘The Confessions’ was born from a feeling of dissatisfaction toward how the power is handled” — and that very contemporary and international concern should offer the Italian film a rich life beyond its own borders.
Somewhere in Germany, in a luxury hotel requisitioned by the G8 organizers and placed under the highest supervision, leaders from eight of the most powerful countries in the world (played by Pierfrancesco Favino, Marie-Josée Croze, Richard Sammel, Stéphane Freiss, Togo Igawa, Andy de la Tour, John Keogh and Aleksei Guskov, accompanied by Moritz Bleibtreu as a secret service agent) discuss their top-secret new plan for the planet. Their little gathering is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of three outside observers: rock star Michael Wintzl (Johan Heldenbergh), acclaimed children’s novelist Claire Seth (Connie Nielsen) and the Italian monk and author Roberto Salus (Servillo), who exceptionally accepted to break his vow of silence.
The newcomers’ presence obviously worries the white-collar assembly, though it appears that the three “civilians” have been personally invited by International Monetary Fund director Daniel Roché (Daniel Auteuil), an outrageously rich and powerful man whose unusual behaviour masks his more surprising actual agenda: The IMF director wants the quiet monk to hear his confession.
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Shortly after their clandestine discussion, the freshly confessed economist is found dead in his room, suffocated in a plastic bag that belonged to the monk. The G8 assembly is more puzzled than ever: What secret did the monk became the custodian of? Given the choice to describe the death as a murder or a suicide, which public announcement would destabilize the stock market the less?
Naming a real institution — the International Monetary Fund — to host the action was a bold decision explained by the director’s intention to picture the heart of economic power as a neurotic organism capable of undermining itself: Convinced that they have a scientific authority on all things, the arrogant ministers lose their aplomb in the presence of a man who considers himself absolutely free and inalienable since his life “belongs to God.”
Both the other guests — the musician and the writer — could also have embodied an alternative vision of freedom, by means of creation instead of religion. Unfortunately, Andò and Angelo Pasquini’s script doesn’t dwell long enough on these characters. Instead, the monk serves as the epicentre of the narrative, and Servillo’s soulful gaze gives the wise man a placid charisma: He tapes bird songs on his recorder and believes silence is the ultimate form of freedom. But this focus on Servillo’s character, along with attention to a few others (namely Croze and Favino as the guilt-ridden ministers from Canada and Italy, respectively), also has its purpose: “The Confessions” is a philosophical thriller in which characters contemplate the meaning of time or the concept of creative destruction in international relations. By giving it the aspect of a more traditional whodunit, Andò makes his story enjoyable by the general audience, as his elegant mise en scène and voluntarily classical composition — often perfectly geometrical, with intimate closeups on faces, bolstered by Nicola Piovani’s graceful score — makes the narration instantly readable.