Zaza Urushadze’s The Confession was the first overcrowded screening at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, most probably due to the director’s previous success with the Oscar-nominated Tangerines, which won the audience award when competing at the 29th edition of WFF. However, judging from the audience reaction, The Confession does not seem likely to have the same fate.
The script, written in two weeks (with, as the director remarked at the screening, no further improvisation done while filming), follows Giorgi, a filmmaker-turned-priest (Dimitri Tatishvili), and his assistant, Valiko (Joseph Khvedelidze), who have come to serve in a remote village in the Georgian countryside, after the death of its local priest. Having the “remote village” mentioned, it might be somewhat expected that the film portrays the dull and empty village society, where the intrigue comes as the only entertainment, but also as both the cause to confess and the consequence of the confession. And in fact, the film does that. Yet, there is more added to it: the film shows the revival of the church as the centre of the village’s social life, followed by the rise of the priest’s position and therefore his responsibilities, as, through confessions, he becomes “the one who knows” – and the one who knows is, of course, the one who must act. This rise of the church is achieved through the priest’s initiative to screen films and reach out to the villagers through cinema. This meta-cinematic element might lead to the conclusion of how Urushadze himself sees the purpose of film today – as a potentially powerful social and political tool. However, it would have been fully meta-cinematic if only The Confession provided such influence itself, which it does not.
Instead, the audience is shown to some extent a melodramatic and comic drama that touches a lot of important topics, such as the already mentioned position of the church, religion and cinema in society as well as in a particular person’s life, the role of the priest in society, the pressure of keeping the secret, etc. The Confession has an engaging and easy to follow narrative, which very slowly and unexpectedly reaches its most disturbing part towards the very end of the film, very much recalling Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012). It is only when the film depicts the accusation of sexual harassment and paedophilia that it finally comes to life, with a paced-up, vivid tempo and flashing plot twists. Yet, this, the most striking part of the film, seems to happen and conclude too fast. Possibly the director’s attempt to cover as many topics as possible resulted in a slightly superficial overview of a small town — which indeed, does resemble society in general.
On the other hand, convincing performances, primarily by Tatishvili, paired with multiple close-ups of all the protagonists — which makes it seem as if cinematographer Giorgi Shvelidze’s camera is aiming to capture the soul of the character — add to the value of the film. Still, it feels like the whole impression, not taking the unsuccessful meta-cinematic approach into account, would have been much stronger without the elements of comedy mostly based on repeated gags by Voliko. These elements do make The Confession easier to watch, and add up to the positive hope (in the faith-in-humanity-restored manner) with which the film ends, but at the same time they make the heavy burden of the film’s topics too light to carry.