Film Review: Confessional

BOTTOM LINE: A clever political satire that keeps alive the spirit of Costa Gavras.

Pusan International Film Festival
A Window on Asian Cinema

"Confessional," directed by Jerrold Tarog and Ruel Antipuesto, is a mockumentary posing as the making-of of a Philippine religious festival. It morphs from an amateur filmmaker's profile of a shady local politician into a stinging satire about the manipulation of truth in art and life, on a personal and national level.

The indictment of corruption in "Confessional" is not specific to Philippine provincial politics but applies to all political systems. It speaks to an intellectual audience, and its global perspective makes it a worthy festival choice.

"Confessional" is the "The Blair Witch Project" of political thrillers. Made with a grant of $23,000, the coarse production quality is not a style statement like some independent digital films but instead integral to the plot. It lures the audience into a forest of moral conundrums and ends with a twist that chills to the bone.

Shot like a home movie, it pretends to be e while undermining the very idea of verisimilitude by having narrator Ryan (David Barril) give a demo on how to doctor a wedding video to make it more touching.

An editor of corporate videos, Ryan goes to Cebu to interview people for his documentary about the Sinulog festival, which epitomizes the Philippine national character. This becomes the pretext for a galvanizing portrait of Lito (Publio Briones III), a retired mayor from provincial Mindanao.

Philippine history and culture is interpreted through his highly articulate yet utterly unreliable rhetoric: "We're not a country, just scattered tribes of narrow-minded, insecure liars." In increasingly disturbing scenes, Lito makes Ryan 'confessor' to his abuses of power. More shocking than his litany of crimes is his vision of himself as a martyr for his honesty. The outcome of Lito's testimony and the multiple twists that continue through the credit roll are just too good to give away.

The directors are dyed-in-the-wool cynics who don't flinch from showing the unsavory aspects of their people. Yet they are shrewd enough to employ commercial filmmaking techniques to make their critique accessible. Their sense of humor makes the underlying political message more even hard-hitting.

Cast: David Barril, Publio Briones III, Greg Fernandez, Owee Salva, Donna Gimeno.
Directors: Jerrold Tarog, Ruel Antipuesto.
Screenwriter: Ramon Ukit.
Executive producers: Ruel Antipuesto.
Producer: Ronald Arguelles.
Director of photography: Ruel Antipuesto.
Music: Jerrold Tarog, Aromsi.
Editor: Pats R. Ranyo.
Costumes: Donna Gimeno.
Sales agent: ABS-CBN Distribution.
No rating, 86 minutes.
Production: Cinema One Original presents Oddfield Prods and Creative Programs