If you’re looking for a film that encapsulates the profound injustices of life behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, The Confession (1970) fits the bill. Of course, films of this nature tend to be unpleasant to watch, and this one — based on the actual experiences of a high-ranking Party member in Czechoslovakia — is definitely a relentlessly bleak one.
Gerard (Yves Montand) is a dutiful Party leader who believes in the communist cause. But one day, he notices he’s being followed. Soon enough he’s grabbed off the street and taken into state custody, suspected of espionage ties to the CIA — not that they tell him that directly. Indeed he is the victim of a ruthless Soviet show trial, and getting arrested is only the beginning of an extended interrogation ordeal. Mistreated horribly during his incarceration, his handlers systematically program him into being a traitor, putting him in the impossible position of wanting to sign a confession filled with government lies.
Based on the memoir of Artur London, who survived a similar ordeal, The Confession practically drips with authenticity — and director Costa-Gravas takes pains to provide a detailed depiction of the disorienting and inhuman tactics used to render suspects compliant. The film is at its best when Gerard’s confusion is played up with cinematic trickery. Unfortunately, it succeeds more as a historical, political document than an entertaining film. The story it’s telling is hard to watch by its very nature, and — also inherent — it’s not structurally satisfying. So while it makes its point, quite strongly, its message only carries it so far.