Roberto Andò’s The Confessions pivots on a potentially ingenious concept that suggests an Agatha Christie potboiler writ large for the global stage. Roberto Salus (Toni Servillo), an Italian monk, arrives at a hotel on the German coast that caters to the richest and most powerful, the one percent of the one percent. Roberto’s attending a G8 summit focused on a mysterious austerity measure that could have dire consequences for Italy. It isn’t routine for religious figures to attend these functions, but Daniel Roché (Daniel Auteuil), director of the International Monetary Fund, insists on Roberto’s presence. Daniel wants Roberto to hear his confession, which transpires on the night of Daniel’s death from apparent suicide. The economists of the G8 nations scramble to learn what Daniel told Roberto, who refuses to break his confessor’s confidence, and even to discern if the monk is a killer.
Andò has mild fun with the debauched and symmetrical luxuriousness of the setting, following characters as they navigate the hotel’s vast corridors and forge secret allegiances. There’s an illicit tryst, which might signify a conflict of interest between two nations, and there are languid, sexually suggestive swims in the middle of the night. Claire Seth (Connie Nielsen), a legendary children’s author, is another unconventional guest of the summit, and she partners with Roberto, attempting to discern what’s going on while security watches the perimeter, looking for a crack in someone’s moneyed seams. The images have a stately, impersonally gorgeous and slightly perverted elegance that reflects our fantasies of the secret architects of the world as living in a kind of neo-Roman playpen, but Andò’s heart ultimately isn’t in such thriller niceties as character motivation, foreshadowing, irony, or even style.
Truly driving the filmmakers here is an urge to mount a state of address concerning the corrupt global economy. The economists who attend the G8 summit know that they’re frauds bolstering the elite at the expense of the rest of the world, and a few of them wish to unburden themselves to Roberto, who wanders the hotel with an outraged passivity that’s meant to be captivating. In flashbacks, Daniel casually admits that democracy is a fib and reveals a mathematical formula that exists to justify whatever policies he must fashion so as to keep the status quo in check. Banks are likened to a secret society and the mafia. Claire observes that economists are more interested in an abstract notion of austerity than its material consequences, while another official speaks of capitalism as a necessary pruner for social survival, his conviction in his sentiments visibly wavering.
Such observations have a way of sucking the air out of a room. Andò has the precarious economic destiny of much of Europe on his mind, as well as America’s hopeless classist corruption and hypocrisy, but his film’s punchline essentially amounts to “capitalism is bad,” which is hardly revelatory for anyone already inclined to see The Confessions. The film settles into a preachy monotonousness that’s reaffirmed by the presence of Servillo, who calcifies Roberto in the maddeningly prim smugness that the actor perfected in his collaborations with Paolo Sorrentino. In case we miss the point that’s repeated throughout the narrative, Andò ends The Confessions with a literal sermon, in which we’re reminded that caring is better than money.
Andò takes the form of a classical whodunit, which is already inherently readymade for classist critique, and bludgeons it with naïve indignation and sanctimony. He and co-screenwriter Angelo Pasquini lack the empathy and imagination to envision characters who might hauntingly believe in the rigged system to which they belong, and who might have disappointments and hungers that refute the thrust of their neat and dull plot.