Sunday, May 28, 2017

Open Roads ’17: The Confessions

Central bankers should be more like Roberto Salus and his fellow Carthusian monks. Whenever the former talk, they needlessly rile the markets. IMF director Daniel Roché will never make that mistake again, because he has died under rather mysterious circumstances. Salus might very well understand what happened, but he is apparently bound by the confessional seal as well as a rather slippery vow of silence in Roberto Andò’s The Confessions (trailer here), which screens during Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2017.

For reasons that are never explicitly clear, Roché has invited Salus to attend the current G8 conference in an austerely swanky resort. It turns out the global financier wanted Salus to hear his confession, if it can be properly called that. The next morning, Roché’s body is discovered—an apparent suicide using the plastic bag Salus that previously held the monk’s suspiciously missing digital recorded. Would Salus ever secretly record a confession? That would be a grave betrayal of trust, but it sure would make the investigating secret service agents’ lives easier.

In addition to the dead body, there is also intrigue swirling around a controversial proposal Roché has pushed through, over the objections of Italy and Canada. Could they be related? Claire Seth suspects as much. Like Salus, the J.K. Rowling-like leftist children’s author was invited to observe the summit, along with aging rocker Michel Wintzl. Frankly, the notion the guardians of the western world’s financial systems would be interested in their insights is absolutely terrifying, but sadly far from impossible.

The Confessions starts out like a moody Claude Chabrol mystery, featuring a picturesque setting and a set-up ripe with potential. Unfortunately, the second and third acts are fatally mired in a morass of conspiratorial hokum. Andò is absolutely convinced the G8 would happily pass a proposal that deliberately makes the big industrialized nations richer and the small developing countries poorer, but he clearly has no idea what that policy would be. As a result, there are endlessly awkward conversations in which the finance ministers refer to “that thing we agreed to.” Instead of a juicy whodunit, Confessions degenerates into a middling Seinfeld episode.

It is a shame, because Toni (Great Beauty) Servillo is terrific as Salus. He is wise and humane, but in a rather astringent way that isn’t the least bit cutesy or shticky. Connie Nielsen also adds a refined presence as Seth and Marie-Josée Croze is entertainingly scandalous as the Canadian minister. Unfortunately, most of the other power brokers are standard issue stock characters.

In case the G8 is also looking for input from movie reviewers, I would advise a slow but steady increase in the money supply. Monetarism: it works every time. Andò would also be well-advised to limit the ideological soap-boxing in his next film. It completely sabotages everyone’s efforts in The Confession. A big disappointment, it screens twice on Thursday (6/1), the opening day of Open Roads, at the Walter Reade Theater.