The Confession (L’Aveu), Blu-ray (1970/2015)
Actors: Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Gabriele Ferzetti
Studio: Janus Films/ The Criterion Collection 759 [5/26/15]
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: French PCM mono
Extras: You Speak of Prague – 1970 21-min. documentary by Chris Marker for French TV feat. Costa-Gavras, Montand, Signoret, real-life Artur London and screenwriter Jorge Semprun; Portrait London – 1981 French TV program with Artur & Lise London discussing their experience as political prisoners; New interview with editor Francoise Bonnot; Costa-Garas and film scholar Peter von Bagh hour conversation in 1998; New interview with John Michalczyk – author of Costa-Gavras: The Political Fiction Film, Printed poster with essay by scholar Dina Iordanova
Length of feature: 138 min.
This was the next Costa-Gavras effort after his successul Z (about the right-wing coup in Greece), and is equally riveting. It is based on the true story of the Soviet show trials which were held publically in the years before the death of Stalin. It supposedly takes place in Prague, although last minute refusals made them shoot in the north of France instead.
In the early ’50s an important Czech dignitary is abducted, imprisoned, tortured and interrogated by members of the ruling Communist party. Their methods are terrifying and he is forced to appear before the court to confess in detail (written by them) his part in attempting to overthrow the regime. Good communists who served in the Spanish Civil War and were in the French resistance are among the targets, and nearly all of them are Jews. London’s main interrogator is supposed to have learned his trade working for the Nazis during the war.
Both the dignitary and his wife (Signoret) believe at first in the Communist Party doing the right thing and are hopeful of the mistakes being corrected, but that is certainly not the case. He is subjected to actual torture; it’s one of the first films to deal with this. Montand actually lost 25 lbs. to play the debased prisoner. The blindfold-glasses put on him regularly by the guards look like the ones worn by the time traveler in Chris Marker’s sci-fi classic La Jetée.
The use of flash-forwards and flash-backs only becomes a bit confusing towards the end of the film, when it gives some respite from the horrible experiences of the prisoner by flashing forwards to his relaxing in some other country and being interviewed by some fellow communist writers. The accidental meeting near the end with his former interrogator on the street is also most revealing. One reviewer said this film finally explained totalitarianism to him, and I must agree.