Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Confession (1970 film)

Based on the book by Artur London and Lise London, L’aveu (The Confession) is the real-life story of Artur London who had been abducted, interrogated, and imprisoned during a series of trials by the Soviet Union. Directed by Costa-Gavras and screenplay by Jean Semprun, the film is a political thriller that explore the Soviet Eastern bloc show trials and the troubled journey that London took as he is played by Yves Montand. Also starring Simone Signoret, Gabriele Ferzetti, Michel Vitold, and Jean Bouise. L’aveu is an eerie yet gripping film from Costa-Gavras.

Set from 1951 Czechoslovakia to the day the Soviet Union invaded Prague on August 21, 1968, the film is about Artur London’s arrest for claims that he had betrayed the communist party in his country where he would be abused and interrogated forcing him to confess his actions. Told largely as a flashback where London is telling his story to a couple of journalists in France in 1965, the film’s screenplay by Jean Semprun doesn’t reveal this twist until the beginning of the second act as it’s more about the events that lead to London’s arrest and his time in prison where he is given unconventional methods of torture to confess as he would reveal things where some of it featured some truth as well as time with a man who is revealed to be an American spy. It’s a script that is presented in a very unconventional manner as there’s flashbacks and voice-over dialogue present throughout London’s interrogations and torture as he would tell them to journalists.

The film’s second half would also introduce to the man who would be London’s interrogator in Kohoutek (Gabriele Ferzetti) as he would get answers as it is all part of big public trial for London and several others accused of betrayal. Even as London’s wife Lise (Simone Signoret) is trying to get him out of prison but is conflicted due to wanting to not get in trouble with the communist party as she ends up making a decision that would impact her greatly. The film’s third act is about the trial and its aftermath as well as the 11 who would be executed including the man that gave London and 12 other colleagues in trouble with the Soviet Union.

Costa-Gavras’ direction is definitely engaging for the way he opens the film with London noticing he’s being followed and watch as he does his usual day-to-day activities as it builds up the suspense very slowly. Shot mainly in France as Czechoslovakia for some of the exteriors, the film spends much of its time inside the prisons where London has no clue where he’s at or what time it is as he’s often blindfolded or wearing glasses that block his vision. While there’s a few wide shots in the film, much of Costa-Gavras’ direction involve more intimate shots with the usage of medium shots to capture the space of the jail cells, the interrogation rooms, and other rooms in the prison where it can be claustrophobic at times. Still, Costa-Gavras maintains an air of intrigue throughout the course of the film during these interrogations where the methods are torturous as it’s not just physical but also mental. By the time Kohoutek enters the film, it definitely become a game of wits with Kohoutek trying to gather everything he can from London as there is a sense of repetition in what London has to say for the public trials.

There are some wide shots in the trial sequence as it include a moment of humor to play into the grandness of what is happening. The scenes set in 1965 at the South of France are much simpler as well as the scenes in the aftermath as it’s more about what London had been through and what he would see happen to his home country. Especially when he’s forced to see the fallacy of what the communist movement was all about and the accusations he had been given over his loyalty to the party. Overall, Costa-Gavras creates a very captivating and unsettling film about a man being forced to confess for crimes and such he probably didn’t commit.

Cinematographer Raoul Coutard does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of low-key lights for the scenes in the prisons as well as the lack of sunlight for some of the exteriors, with the exception of the scenes at the south of France, to play into the grimy world of Czechoslovakia. Editor Francoise Bonnot does excellent work with the editing as it’s very stylized with its jump-cuts, slow-motion cuts, and some montages to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Bernard Evein does amazing work with the look of the prison cells, the courtroom, and other places that play into this cold world of Communist Czechoslovakia. The sound work of William Robert Sivel is superb for capturing the atmosphere of the prisons as well as the way some of the sounds of the torture devices are presented. The film’s music by Giovanni Fusco is fantastic for its sparse yet eerie score filled with dissonant strings and keyboards to play into the melancholic elements of the film.

The film’s terrific cast features a large ensemble that include Jean Bouise as a factory boss and Michel Vitold as a communist party official. Gabriele Ferzetti is incredible as Kohoutek as an interrogator for the Soviets who would use unconventional methods to get London to sign documents and reveal things as it is a very restrained performance from Ferzetti who doesn’t get mad but knows what to do when he’s pushed. Simone Signoret is amazing as Lise London as London’s French wife who is concerned about her husband but is also aware of what she has to do to avoid prison time as she is forced to make some serious sacrifices. Finally, there’s Yves Montand in a tremendous performance as Artur London as a vice-minister of foreign affairs for Czechoslovakia who is accused of treason as he wonders what he’s done as it’s a very demanding performance that require a lot of physicality as it’s one of Montand’s finest performances.

L’aveu is a phenomenal film from Costa-Gavras that features top-notch performances from Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, and Gabriele Ferzetti. Along with its eerie visuals and intense look into the Soviet show trials, it’s a political thriller that showcases what a man would endure to answer questions he has no answers for as well as a look into a dark period of time in Eastern Europe where the Soviets would question its most die-hard loyalists. In the end, L’aveu is a sensational film from Costa-Gavras.

Costa-Gavras Films: (The Sleeping Car Murders) – (Shock Troops) – Z - (State of Siege) – (Special Section) – (Womanlight) – Missing (1982 film) - (Hanna K.) – (Family Business) – (Betrayed (1988 film)) – (Music Box) – (The Little Apocalypse) – (Mad City) – (Amen.) – (Le Couperet) – (Eden is West)

© thevoid99 2017

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