If there’s one word that manages to link this review to the previous one (In Time) and the next (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), then it’s this one: climax. Having a climax (or anticlimax) is essential to a film, but finding one that doesn’t damage the film but actually lifts it up to a higher dimension is quite a quest. Let’s start with the bad news: Confessions has a climax that ruined the film for me. “Ruined” may be a big word, but it did manage to turn this film from the best film of 2011 to a possible contender for that title.
Strictly speaking, Confessions is a film from 2010, but it was released in German cinemas this summer (right about the time when I was visiting) and as far as I can remember, it wasn’t even released in Belgium at all. So let’s all be social and welcome Confessions to Film 2011.
Speaking of “social”, the teacher who opens the film with her confession can’t count on the social attitude of her pupils. But she doesn’t cut her farewell speech short and by the end of her confession, everyone is all ears. Not because she’s such a good orator (fear not, this is not Dead Poets Society) but because she confesses her little daughter didn’t drown in a pool as was suggested. She has clear proof that the girl was murdered and not just murdered: the culprits are two pupils from that classroom. She only hints at who the pupils are, constantly referring to them as A and B, but soon everyone knows who they are. And even if they didn’t, at that point the teacher reveals that the milk she distributed to everyone at the start of the lesson was lovely healthy milk for everyone, apart from the cartons of the culprits: their milk was spiked with HIV-infected blood. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that the two pupils who are suddenly vomiting milk are very likely the murderers.
As far as opening scenes go, Confessions makes sure it enters with a bang. The opening monologue lasts almost half an hour but not a second of it disappoints. Why the film is called Confessions and not Confession soon becomes clear: next up are characters who have to deal with the teacher’s action.
What makes this film outstanding is the level of depth that’s been given to those characters. The second confession comes from a girl from the class, who may or may not have feelings for Shuya (a.k.a. A) and we learn more about Shuya, herself and the other pupils through her story. Next up are the mother of “B” and Shuya himself. Each story doesn’t just keep the film going, it reveals more about the people. Confessions is based on the novel Kokuhaku by Kanae Minato. Director Tetsuya Nakashima (who also made the movie Kamikaze Girls) is also responsible for translating the book into a movie. (And one with quite a British tone: the soundtrack has prominent tracks by Boris and Radiohead.)
The only thing that didn’t work for me was the climax, for which computer effects had to be brought in. Not only were they not the most convincing effects, they also didn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. More than once, the director chooses to hold back the pace of the film by using a slow motion technique that’s reminiscent of Blue Velvet‘s opening scene. In the rest of the film, it helps the film become more beautiful, but in the climax the slow motion – in combination with the effects – actually damage the scene. Had the director been content with only half of the effect used in the film (in order to keep this review spoiler-free, I won’t reveal which part), the result would’ve been a lot better.
In the end, the failed climax cost Kokuhaku a competition-free first spot on this year’s list. But on the plus side, we now have a new climax ourselves: which will be the best film of the year?
Confessions is out on DVD in the UK. The double disc release also includes interviews with the directors and soms of the actors.