Costa-Gavras paints a desolate and powerful political picture of an innocent high-ranking communist party official being interrogated and tortured in service of the frightening if absurd Soviet bloc show trials of the 1950s.
1970 | France | Drama/History | 138 mins | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for coarse language and some mature themes
Cast: Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Gabriele Ferzetti
Plot: Gerard is the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia. He realizes he is watched and followed. One day, he is arrested and put into jail, in solitary confinement.
Awards: Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
Source: KG Productions
Subject Matter: Moderate/Ideological
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
I’m a big fan of Costa-Gavras, who is one of the most important political filmmakers to emerge from Europe in the late ‘60s, starting with his international breakthrough, Z (1969). His follow-up, The Confession, is just as powerful.
Starring Yves Montand in a brilliant performance as Gerard, an innocent high-ranking Czechoslovak communist party official who is inexplicably captured by mysterious members of his own party to be interrogated and tortured, The Confession ploughs through one of the darkest chapters of 20th century geopolitical history without really showing us anything much.
It is, thus, to the testament of Costa-Gavras’ bold storytelling sensibility that primarily through Gerard’s interrogation (the bulk of the film sees him isolated in his cell, or being roughed up by tough-talking interrogators), we become privy to the injustice and absurdity of the Soviet bloc show trails of the 1950s.
“You must confess your guilt. As an obedient member of the party, you must submit.”
It’s all very frightening to think that there was a time in the world when an authoritarian system allowed innocent people to be at the mercy of some made-up version of truth, and are forced to confess to crimes that they did not commit, or people whom they did not meet, and then woefully executed to protect the virtue of justice and truth.
What’s more extraordinary about Costa-Gavras’ film is that it was shot and released during a time when Soviet communism showed no sign of waning. It can be an exhausting film to see, with endless interrogation scenes that might wear you out—though that is precisely the filmmaker’s intention.
It is also precisely the point that you will come out of it feeling baffled and bewildered, but if you can appreciate the finer nuances of ‘Communist verbiage’, and place the film in the larger context of ideologies at stake during the Cold War, then this masterwork will be a riveting watch.