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Le Confessionnal

Le Confessionnal

By Patrick Samuel • October 27th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Alliance Vivafilm

Original airdate: August 24th, 1995
Running time: 100 minutes

Country of origin: Canada, France, UK
Original language: French, English

Writer and director: Robert Lepage

Cast: Lothaire Bluteau, Kristin Scott Thomas

Le Confessionnal

Every family has secrets; things they’d rather friends and other more distant relatives not know about. As time passes, these secrets become buried and later generations may have no idea about some of the events that came to pass before they were even born. So it was with my own family. Often it seemed like those closely guarded secrets were the only things holding us together. As the youngest, there were many things I wasn’t allowed to know about, to enquire about or to even mention. The mystery surrounding a car crash one of my cousins was killed in, the nights my brothers spent at the police station, the real reason we had to move so many times when I was growing up, and the bizarre way I was told to never reveal who my real parents were when I was at school… these are just some of the secrets they kept and no one ever explained them to me.

I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to stories about similar families in situations that somehow mirrored my own experiences. Late one night in 1997, back when Channel 4 were known for their great selection of challenging programs and films, I caught Le Confessionnal, a film I’ve never been able to forget. Written and directed by Robert Lepage, it uses the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1953 thriller I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift as priest who hears a murderer’s confession but is bound by the secrecy of the confessional, as a backdrop to tell its story. This alone was enough to draw me to the screen as it was (and still is) my favourite Hitchcock film.

Le Confessionnal

Set in Quebec City, it weaves together two different timelines, 1952 and the present day where Pierre (Lothaire Bluteau) returns home for his father’s funeral and then embarks on a search for his absent brother Marc (Pierre Goyette) to help unravel a family mystery. The mystery itself, surrounding housemaid Rachel (Suzanne Clément), a 16-year-old girl from a working class and devout Catholic family who finds herself pregnant under mysterious circumstances, is revealed in flashbacks in 1952 while I Confess is being filmed in and around the city.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays an assistant to Alfred Hitchcock (Ron Burrage) and sometimes we glimpse him scouting for locations to use in his film. Other times we see some of the famous scenes being filmed with Montgomery Clift (Jean-Philippe Côté). It’s a complex film-within-a-film but its set-up is rather unusual and no less intriguing as Pierre’s search for his brother takes him to some surprising places and as we try to piece together the clues surroudning this long-held family secret.

In I Confess, Montgomery Clift’s character, Father Logan, listens to a confession about a murder, in Le Confessionnal it’s another priest who listens to a different kind of Le Confessionnalconfession as Rachel reveals her pregnancy. It’s a film drenched with Catholicism; there’s a lot of guilt, repressed anger and the personal torment experienced by Marc who’s struggling with both his biological identity and his sexual identity. If it can be compared to any other film, I might be inclined to say Atom Egoyan’s Exotica (1994) or Pedro Almodóvar’s Matador (1986), based on the way Lepage layers the film with these emotions.

On a purely visual level, Le Confessionnal uses a kind of dreamlike cinematography to tie these stories together and it’s a technique that’s used masterfully here in a film by a first-time director and is barely seen anymore in recent films, sadly. The shots are immaculately composed, the lighting creates a kind of mood that fits the film perfectly while the city of Quebec becomes its own character. During one scene we see Pierre’s father shaving with a straight razor seemingly above a sink before droplets of blood appear. Then the camera tilts to reveal Pierre cleaning a paintbrush as he redecorates in his father’s apartment in deep blood red.

It’s an unforgettable film and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in great storytelling. It’s also a fitting homage to Hitchcock’s film without actually being Hitchcockian. The secret that’s finally revealed may not come as a shock, but the journey the story takes us on makes it a very worthwhile 100 minutes with these beautiful and tragically written characters. It also leaves us enough room to ponder our own family secrets and lies and ask ourselves “why do we bother to hold on to them for so long?”

Le Confessionnal

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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