Everybody Breaks, Bro: Costa-Gavras’ The Confession

The fourth shot in Costa-Gavras’ excruciating film The Confession.

If Robert Conquest explained the machinations behind the Soviet show trials in the 1930s in The Great Terror, and if, in Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler walked you through the the process of making a man not only confess to a crime he didn’t commit, but then embrace his own humiliation and willingly grovel before the authorities … then Costa-Gavras actually theatricalizes the entire charade from beginning to end – which seems like it would be impossible to pull off (at least, it seems impossible if you know even a little bit about the topic – which … yeah, if you’ve been around these parts long, you know I do.) The intellectual slipperiness of those show trials was so important – the facade, the knowledge it all was fake, but this was The Process, the ideological component of these inter-Party arguments, and how ideology then led to the Purges, the dizzying confusion of the labels (“Trotskyite” “Zionist” “anarchist”) … how do you make ANY of this clear? But the confusion is part of the interrogation process. And all the actors are so good here, the script, the scene work, all so good, you follow it, realizing what he is being forced to admit to, incrementally, as the weeks of his imprisonment and torture break him down. He won’t confess all at once. You have to walk him through it, step by step. The longer the film goes on – and it’s a long film – the more disorienting it is. Yves Montand is superb, as a big-wig in the Party, a true believer, who is slowly … slowly … broken down to confess to being a traitor, a spy, etc., even though none of it is true. Based on true events. The film is difficult to watch. While the film is exquisitely edited, the story itself takes no shortcuts. Halfway through, you are ACHING for Montand to be allowed to sleep. Masterful editing, even more masterful camera-work. It’s a cliche but: they don’t make ’em like this anymore. Although, come to think of it: They don’t make ’em like this in general.

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