Saturday, June 23, 2007


LE CONFESSIONNAL (1995, Canada, Robert Lepage)
It's men who find it hard to forgive. God forgives everything, for God is all-merciful. Don't be afraid.

Robert Lepage is Canada's most celebrated and innovative stage director, and if this film doesn't have the breathtaking audacity of his theatre work, it is still a rich and sophisticated piece of work. When his father's death prompts Pierre to seek out his adopted brother Marc, the two of them strive to come to terms with events of their childhood that reverberate in the present – events that were interwoven with the filming of Alfred Hitchcock's I CONFESS in their city.

Lepage pays frequent homage to Hitchcock, brilliantly interweaving the two films and referencing films like VERTIGO and PSYCHO. He rarely resorts to mere cleverness, and when he does, he is very clever indeed. In one sequence, Hitchcock auditions French girls for the role of two school children who witness the murderer leaving the scene of the crime: the audition serves the contemporary story by developing character and interweaving past and present, but the sequence also gives a subtle nod to Hitchcock's cameo in the original film that almost seems to acknowledge his own "there but for the grace of God" culpability – "Was he fat or thin? Did you notice anything special about him? But you're absolutely sure he was a priest?" – before concluding in a double-take of a segue that links the city's cinematic past to its media present in the person of TV newscaster Renee Hudon.

The Lepage film is far edgier than its predecessor, and it is more interested in psychological and relational questions than in religious ones. Even so, themes of the holy confidentiality of the confessional, as well as the integrity and humanity of the priesthood, carry through from Hitchcock's film into this. Set in a secular, sexualized Quebec that contrasts sharply with the pervasive Catholic milieu of its predecessor, the contemporary film is about faith and vocation, but even more it is concerned with their loss.

This is a densely layered film, with a visual power and complexity that dazzles: his startling use of colour, endlessly inventive segues from scene to scene, past to present, and startling compositions add layer after layer of significance to an already powerful story of fallenness and reconciliation that's unsentimental to the point of bleakness, but ultimately neither cynical nor hopeless. There is an almost sacramental attention to the physical, sensual world: imagery of paint, blood and blindness invoke themes of guilt and innocence, truth and deception, concealment and reclamation, inheritance and sins of fathers. Complex visual references ironically link the confessional to gay saunas, strip clubs, elevators and Japanese hotels: the contrasts are sometimes cuttingly ironic, sometimes nearly tragic as they evoke what has been lost in Quebec culture, and in the lives of these two lost and fatherless young men.

Lepage's film lacks some of the transcendence implied by Hitchcock's, while the older film lacks the emotional power and complexity of the contemporary one. But what a great double feature! Taken together, they are both artistically stimulating and spiritually gratifying – true Soul Food.


Available at Videomatica

1 comment:

Kent said...

I agree with your observations on LaPage's clever use of transitions linking 1952 and 1989 Quebec. It might be worth mentioning additionally, only for those who are not aware of it, that young Renee Hudon did indeed pass Hitchcock's audition and ultimatelly appeared as one of the two pre-teen girls questioned by Karl Malden in I Confess. (She's the one in glasses, seated to the right.)