Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Confession" tells of purges

Cleveland Press May 31, 1971

"Confession" is a film directed by Costa-Gravas who made "Z," and it is like its predecessor -- only different.

Like "Z" it is a detailed, almost documentary examination of a slice of political history, of an incident of personal freedom in conflict with the actions of a tyrannical state.

But where "Z" also came across as a fast and suspenseful melodrama "Confession" is slower, almost ponderous in its detailed examination of the facts.

"Confession" is the story of the Soviet-Bloc spy trial in Czechoslovakia in 1952 and is based on the account of that trial by Artur London, one of the three out of 14 defendants who escaped the death penalty.

The opening moments of the movie have a little of the thriller about them as Yves Montand as London, a Communist Party and government official, finds himself being followed in a very obvious manner. Having lived through previous party purges, though on the winning side, he has more than an inkling of what might be in store for him.

He is picked up finally and handcuffed and blindfolded and led away to an unknown location. There is no formal arrest, no formal charge. Treatment is brutal.

Handcuffed, he is made to walk around his tiny cell. He may sleep only on command only to be awakened immediately. He is virtually, deprived of food.

Then the interrogation begins. He is ordered to confess and like the hero of a Kafka novel, he knows not what his crime is nor does he have a sense of time or place.

His faith in the party is complete. The party will save him, he believes, and the revelation that the party demands a confession of him is as much a jolt as his physical suffering.

Gaunt and bearded he is led before one interrogator after another. Invariably they shout at him. Bit by bit he admits to certain facts that are then twisted and reworded to sound ominous. It is an exercise in party dialectics as much as it is torture.

There are terms such as Trotskyite and Titoist, which meant one thing in the prisoner's youth, another at that time and probably something else today.

The fragments are put together until they form a damning confession, but again not without certain deletions and additions; the substituting of one word for another.

The problem with "Confession" is one of length and repetition. Clearly Costa Gravas wanted to emphasize the horror of the prisoner's ordeal to make our ordeal as weighty as his. Not content with saying what happened, he wants to show us how often and how horribly it happened.. It is a fault that seems obviously made on purpose and not blindly done.

In other respects the movie is perfect in its attention to detail, in its casting of Montand as the political prisoner. "Confession" fails as entertainment while it succeeds as a statement.