Film Review: ‘The Confessions’

An enigmatic monk may hold the secrets to an IMF leader's death in Italian director Roberto Andò's latest examination of life, death and power.

Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Connie Nielsen, Mari-Josee Croze, Lambert Wilson, Richard Sammel, Johan Heldenbergh, Togo Igawa. (Italian, English, French, German dialogue)

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.

Popular on Variety

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.

Film Review: 'The Confessions'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 4, 2016. Running time: 103 MIN. (Original title: “Le confessioni”)

Production: (Italy-France) A BiBi Film, Barbary Films, Canal Plus, Cine Plus production, in co-production with RAI Cinema. (International sales: True Colours, Rome.) Producer, Angelo Barbagallo.

Crew: Directed by Roberto Andò. Written by Angelo Pasquini, Andò. Camera (color), Maurizio Calvesi; editor, Clelio Benevento; music, Nicola Piovani; production designer, Giada Esposito.

With: Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Connie Nielsen, Mari-Josee Croze, Lambert Wilson, Richard Sammel, Johan Heldenbergh, Togo Igawa. (Italian, English, French, German dialogue)

More Film

  • 'The Salt of Tears' Review: Philippe

    'The Salt of Tears': Film Review

    Handsome twentysomething Luc is a trainee joiner, a craft inherited from his doting single dad: a man at once proud of his son’s continuation of their trade, and hopeful that he’ll do something greater with it. When Luc asks his father if he ever wanted to design furniture rather than simply build it, the reply [...]

  • Time to Hunt

    'Time to Hunt': Film Review

    As context for those unaware, South Korea does not have the equivalent of the United States’ Second Amendment. Instead, the country enforces strict gun control — privately owned weapons must be stored at the police station — and fatal shootings hardly ever happen there. That’s important to know when watching Korean movies: It explains why [...]

  • SF Studios, Cinematic Inc. Join Forces

    SF Studios, Cinematic Inc. Join Forces on 'Comet in Moominland,' 'When the Doves Disappeared,' 'Omerta'

    SF Studios is joining forces with Antti J. Jokinen’s leading Finnish production banner Cinematic Inc. to develop and produce the animated feature “Comet in Moominland” and “When the Doves Disappeared,” adapted from Sofi Oksanen’s bestseller. “Comet in Moominland” and “When the Doves Disappeared” are being made by both companies as part of a five-picture deal. [...]

  • Tiger Rising

    Exclusive First Look: 'The Tiger Rising' Starring Queen Latifah

    Queen Latifah and Madalen Mills star in Ray Giarratana’s “The Tiger Rising.” The drama is based on Kate DiCamillo’s New York Times Bestselling children’s book and produced by Deborah Giarratana and Ryan Donnell Smith.  Highland Film Group is handling worldwide sales, which are under at the European Film Market in Berlin. The Tiger Rising” is [...]

  • The Berlinale Bear is Seen in

    Berlinale Enlivened by Anti-Chile State Violence Protests

    A politically charged Berlin Film Festival was further enlivened on the third day of the European Film Market by a demonstration targeting Chilean armed forces. On Saturday, the Martin Gropius Bau, the site of the EFM, saw a group of anonymous protestors unfurl a big banner from one of the market’s upper floors, with activists [...]

  • Vadim Perelman, Ilja Zofin, Lars Eidinger

    'Persian Lessons' Eidinger, Perelman Say Film Offers Parallels for Today

    Director Vadim Perelman and frequent Berlinale film star Lars Eidinger on Saturday championed their new Holocaust-set “Persian Lessons” as a timely, very German tale of how that dark history is closer to us than it seems, made uniquely possible by the fact that most of the film’s production team is not German. The film’s world [...]

  • Uppercase Print

    'Uppercase Print': Film Review

    History is a fanged presence in Romanian director Radu Jude’s recent films. Since 2015’s “Aferim!,” in both fiction and nonfiction formats, culminating in the heady tangle of the two approaches that was 2018’s remarkable “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians,” Jude has interrogated various incidents and epochs in his [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content