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.
Using an area’s name as a title for a movie might be an indication of directorial confidence, but it may also suggest a filmmaker trying to bite off more than they can chew. How does one portray a district with all its quirks and vibrancies? That’s the question Modi Barry and Cedric Ido must have asked themselves while making their debut feature La vie de Chateau. Presented in the 1-2 Competition at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, the picture feels like a faithful portrayal of everyday life of working-class people living nearby Chateau d’Eau metro station in Paris. The film’s fast pace, witty dialogues and freaky story may attract some viewers, but Chateau’s lack of narrative cohesion will be off-putting for those who just wanted to feel the pulse of the neighbourhood.
Charles (Jacky Ido) is a thirtysomething self-described entrepreneur, the head of a bunch of men whose job is to promote a local beauty salon to women passing by. With the younger guys from the street looking up to him, we observe his admirable king-of-the-pack position, while his burst of anger when he discovers that his supposedly one-of-a-kind jacket is just a regular, worthless rag shows his overzealous care for elegance and class. He’ll find himself in a bit of a trouble when his employees start questioning his authority and the salon’s manager schemes to replace him with another street solicitor, Bebe. A conflict arises as Bebe’s style of doing business (he’s more into sporty tank tops than fancy shirts and jackets) is different to Charles’. The looming beef has its moments, but at some point the motif completely disappears. Much like other plotlines in the film, it stays unresolved.
Other inhabitants of Chateau are depicted with little to no nuance. There’s the owner of the salon, Dan, who asks Charles to spy on his wife and see if she’s cheating on him; there’s Moussa, trying to convince Charles to do business with him. Some bits and pieces are presented as a backstory for the characters, but the rapid jumping from one person to another makes it hard to focus and care for either of them. There’s a compelling dynamic between Charles and a Kurdish barber, whose salon the main protagonist wants to buy. Barry and Ido offer an interesting take on the lives of Parisian immigrants, juxtaposing the Kurdish poet as an exiled man unable to cope with the happy-go-lucky Charles, who roams the city as a proud Parisian.
The movie’s upbeat and playful atmosphere may attract some viewers wanting to take a break from more serious works on the festival circuit, but its predictability and lack of clear structure makes it hard to say what the directors were getting at. Playing it safe is not Charles’ modus operandi, but the directors didn’t follow his style and took an easy way out framing the film as a comedy of errors, where coincidences spring up like mushrooms and one bad decision leads to another.
At times, the score is perhaps too hammy, trying to suggest to the audience when to laugh. The mostly hand-held camera diligently follows the characters, offering us a lot of close-ups on actors’ faces, while not that much time is spent on the streets, which is an odd choice for a movie about a city’s area. But then, what’s a neighbourhood without its inhabitants? Just a few blocks of flats indeed.
Polish director Robert Gliński has spent 35 years making films about socio-political themes in Poland and Germany (Nazi occupation, the collapse of communism, and working-class problems under capitalism), many of which were period pieces or coming-of-age dramas. In 2014, Gliński succeeded to merge his two approaches in adapting Stones for the Rampart, Aleksander Kamiński’s well-known novel about a group of scouts during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. With his latest film, Be Prepared, the director once again tells a coming of age story, this time focusing on the rise of nationalism.
Gliński’s twelfth feature tells us a story about a group of present-day Polish boy scouts spending their summer camping in a local forest, learning the basic skills of surviving in nature, responsibility, friendship and also about important figures in Polish history. Every year, the camp also welcomes new recruits from less wealthy families outside of Poland: for the latest edition, they end up getting a group of young Nazi hooligans from Ukraine. The peaceful camp suddenly becomes torture for its more virtuous residents, when Polish scout Tomek (Maciej Musialowski) dies under suspicious circumstances. As one of only three people who know of Tomek’s death, senior scout Jacek (Mateusz Wieclawek) must investigate the murder on his own.
Gliński has made a teenage horror-cum-mystery movie with a deeper message, but his good intent has gone wrong in every possible way. Be Prepared combines hand-held footage in black-and-white, as if shot by the scouts themselves, with a more conventional storytelling perspective. The found footage scenes try to get us closer to the characters, bringing horror vibes into the movie. In their imitation of such footage (irrational, shaky camera), these scenes are more irritating than useful in any way.
But the in-film amateur footage is not the only thing that is black and white. Be Prepared is filled with characters that are either good or bad, which in the end doesn't really matter because they are all built on a bunch of stereotypes. Focusing on senior scout Jacek who desperately wants to be authority in the camp, other characters are ignored. Piotr (Michal Wlodarczyk), leader of the hooligans in the camp, appears to be malevolent just for the sake of it, so we never actually get any deeper psychological insight as to what is happening within him. The camp leader is there only to tell scouts (and us, the viewers) the camp rules and there is also a young on-site nurse, Ewa (Magdalena Wieczorek), who serves more as a sexual object than a fully developed character. Other scouts and other hooligans (and some illegal fishermen who are also around) pop up from time to time just to remind us why Jacek, Ewa and Piotr are in the forest.
Maybe the biggest disappointment in the film is the revelation of who killed Tomek (and others, at later points), mostly because the murderer doesn't really get much screen time. The killer is a secondary character that has no real motivation for his deeds, but that doesn't make any difference for Gliński because the whole film is just a stage to say a few thoughts about the rise of right wing politics in the world. Be Prepared takes 90 minutes to express, through dialogue in its final moments, a thought that our biggest enemies don't come from the outside, but rather from within.
FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw ProjectFIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Monika Gimbutaitė, LithuaniaMonika Gimbutaitė, born in 1993 in Lithuania, graduated from Vilnius Academy of Arts, Art Theory and History programme. For three and a half years she held the position of a programme coordinator at European Film Forum Scanorama. She is currently working as culture journalist for 15min.lt, the second biggest news website in Lithuania.
Alexander Gabelia, GeorgiaGeorgian film journalist and activist. He's a political refugee from Abkhazia. Alexander studied history of cinema and Cinematography at Ilia State University. He writes about cinema and culture in various prints and online outlets including LIBERALI.GE, AHA.GE and he’s a cinema reviewer for on-line magazine – www.magnettemag.com. He’s been also involved into Tbilisi International Film Festival and Cinedoc Tblisi.Arman Fatić, BosniaArman Fatić is Bosnian film critic/journalist currently based in Maribor, Slovenia where he is studying philosophy at Faculty of Arts Maribor. He is a writer for several websites/magazines across balkans some of which are ziher.hr, snl.ba and pulse.rs. His main fields of interest as a film critic are society problems in general and philosophical/religious symbolism in movies.
Jakub Wanat, PolandFilm-lover, cinema-goer, festival-fanatic. Both cinema and writing are my biggest passions, so I decided to combine them, which basically means I killed two birds with one stone. It all started with MAGIEL, Poland's biggest students' magazine, where for almost two years I was the head of the film column. I was chosen as a Polish representative in the Venice Days jury at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. I'm also the LUX prize ambassador and a proud member of the Scope100 project. I had a chance to write for Cineuropa, naEkranie and regularly for my blog. I'm studying both e-business and film studies, also having some time to work at a Polish start-up.
Mikhail Morkin, RussiaMoscow-based film journalist. He is a chief editor and critic for Kinomania.ru. His work has appeared in The Hollywood Reporter Russia, RussoRosso and Film Sense. He also worked as programmer assistant at 2morrow Film Festival. Born in Moscow in 1991, he holds a specialist’s degree in Linguistics from MSPU and is currently studying for master’s degree in Transmedia Production from HSE.
Mina Stanikic, Serbia24 year old film and theatre critic based in Novi Sad, Serbia. Although finishing medicine studies, she took up career as a cultural journalist, starting in Kultur!Kokoška, a culture-dedicated web magazine, slowly becoming focused on film and theatre criticism. Her articles have been published in various cultural magazines, mostly in Serbian language. Mina is alumna of 11th Talents Sarajevo, where she took part in Talent Press program, writing and publishing in English. In film criticism, she has particular interest in debut films, and the following transition from short to feature filmmaking. Mina works as a PR for the Film Front, International short film festival in Novi Sad, Serbia.
Romanita Alexeev, MoldovaRomanița’s relationship with the film world isn’t limited to her fascination for it. It also extends to her fascination with other people’s fascination for it. She has started her journey in this industry by studying film production and acting at the University of Salford, United Kingdom. Later on, she returned to her home-country, Moldova, where, at the present moment, is directing and an online/tv series about Moldovan film industry.