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Toni Servillo’s mysterious monk is an interloper who sends shock waves through a summit of Europe’s G8 economy ministers in Roberto Ando’s The Confessions. While this offbeat parable captures some — though not enough — of the anger felt by many Europeans at their leaders’ inability to get them out of the ongoing economic crisis, it’s hampered by an uncertain tone, and a major disappointment is the overall shortage of the black humor that electrified the director’s breakthrough film, the exhilarating Viva la liberta! (2013), also starring Servillo. Still, there is much to chuckle over as the plodding, plotting politicos are outmaneuvered by the monk’s sheer goodness. A flashy multinational cast that includes Daniel Auteuil, Connie Nielsen, Moritz Bleibtreu and Lambert Wilson should vote the film into Euro art theaters.
It’s refreshing to see that Ando and Angelo Pasquini’s screenplay uses a real-life institution, the International Monetary Fund, as its punching bag. Though the Group of Eight (G8) countries suspended Russia in 2014, the writers throw it into the story along with finance ministers from Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the USA and Canada, together representing over 50% of the world’s wealth. They have gathered together in a secluded luxury hotel in Germany for a top-secret meeting. Bizarrely, three outside observers have also been invited to attend: a music star, the famous children’s novelist Claire Seth (Nielsen) and the Italian monk and author Roberto Salus (Servillo). Dressed in a spotless white robe that inevitably recalls the current pope, the latter bears himself with the few words and the simple dignity of Being There’s Chance the Gardener, which is funny in itself. But is he more than a stand-in for Pope Francis’s humanism fighting the cruel indifference of Realpolitik? This point remains unhappily ambiguous.
Subbing for Christine Lagarde as the fictional director of the IMF is Daniel Roché (Auteuil, looking appropriately rich, portly and all-powerful in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn mode). In a private colloquium, he soon makes it clear to the monk why he has been summoned: to hear his confession before he dies. By the end of the first act, Roché is in his coffin and the ministers are coldly calculating the danger posed by the man who has heard his final words. Has Roché told him about their fiendish new scheme destined to bankrupt more of the world’s poorest economies? Did he tape it on his recorder, along with bird songs in the park? Does he represent a serious threat to the stock market? If so, he must become the fall guy.
The metaphysical thriller side of the film, which might have taken it a few steps into Dan Brown territory, is poorly developed, however. Though the place is swarming with Secret Service agents under Moritz Bleibtreu’s icy command, and Seth, peeping through the keyhole into the monk’s suite, tries to warn Salus that he is in danger, he ignores them. Instead, he works on changing the minds of the guilt-ridden Italian (Pierfrancesco Favino) and Canadian (Marie-Josée Croze) ministers, whose consciences rest uneasy over all the bad laws they are bullied into passing.
It’s clear there’s a lot of pregnant, interesting material laid on the table here, but little time to investigate it. The story flies by without delving deeply into any character beside Servillo’s wise and compassionate, possibly supernatural, monk. It’s a puzzle what Lambert Wilson, who makes a helicopter-landing cameo late in the game, is doing there at all.
Economic and social ideas get similar short shrift: Pussy Riot stages a brief incursion on the lawn, shell companies are mentioned and the Marxist idea of the creative destruction of wealth under capitalism is berated. But this isn’t The Big Short, and most viewers will find The Confessions’ take-home message underwhelming.
Tech work is stately and pleasingly subdued, with the standout being an award-worthy score by Nicola Piovani, at once lush and ironic.
Production companies: BiBi Film, Barbary Films, Canal+, Cine+ in association with RAI Cinema
Cast: Toni Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino, Moritz Bleibtreu, Connie Nielsen, Mari-Josee Croze, Lambert Wilson, Richard Sammel, Johan Heldenbergh, Togo Igawa
Director: Roberto Ando
Screenwriters: Angelo Pasquini, Roberto Ando
Producer: Angelo Barbagallo
Co-producer: Fabio Conversi
Executive producer: Matilde Barbagallo
Director of photography: Maurizio Calvesi
Production designer: Giada Esposito
Costume designer: Maria Rita Barbera
Editor: Clelio Benevento
Music: Nicola Piovani
In Italian, English, French, German
Not rated, 100 minutes
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