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False Confessions (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

False Confessions


Starring Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel, Bulle Ogier, Yves Jacques, Manon Combes, Bernard Verley, Jean-Pierre Malo, Fred Ulysse, Sylvain Levitte, Georges Fatna, Arnaud Mattlinger, Nicolas Peduzzi and Christophe Tolazzi.

Screenplay by Luc Bondy & Geoffrey Layton.

Directed by Luc Bondy.

Distributed by Big World Pictures. 82 minutes. Not Rated.

False Confessions was part of a fascinating artistic experiment. In 2014, Swiss director Luc Bondy (a legendary theatrical director who also made a few films) put together a stage production of Pierre de Marivaux’ bawdy 1739 comedy of manners Les Fausses Confidences which played at the spectacular Odéon Theater in Paris. It featured a cast of some of France’s best actors, including Isabelle Huppert (soon before taking on the role in Elle which earned her a Best Actress nom) and Louis Garrel.

Now, staging an adaptation of a well-known play is not such a stretch. Centuries after his death, Pierre de Marivaux is still quite respected in France. He is sort of the Salieri to Moliere in French theater, but four of his plays are still considered Gallic classics. Word is the production was pretty spectacular, and some snippets of the production found online do seem terrific. It would have been a treat to see this production.

What was somewhat revolutionary in this case is that when they were performing the play at night, they were making a film of the same material during the day. They used the Odéon as the set, other than a few scenes on outdoor streets and parks the film all takes place within the building. And while the building itself is amazingly photogenic, it’s grand staircases, huge parlors, lovely balconies and even spectacular servants’ quarters occasionally overpower the slightly gossamer plot.

Sadly, it turned out to be Bondy’s final project. He died in 2015, while still working on the movie. His widow Marie-Louise Bischofberger helped to finish the film.

I wish I could say that all of this effort was completely worth the labor. While False Confessions has some wonderful parts, and the acting – particularly a radiant Huppert – is spot on, the film eventually falls a little flat.

Part of the problem is perhaps that the story of Les Fausses Confidences is a bit of an awkward fit for the modern day. As an 18th century romp, the play was undoubtedly ahead of its time, a precursor for the French bedroom farces that would continue centuries later. However, by bringing the story to modern Paris, it becomes an odd fit. The storyline is a bit too old-fashioned and the dialogue, even when translated into subtitles, feels stiff and outdated coming from modern characters.

These people have iPhones, for heaven’s sake, they should not be saying and doing these things.

False Confessions is a farce of love, manners, finance and misunderstandings.

It revolves around the budding love affair of Araminte (Huppert) – a beautiful rich widow who appears to live in a museum – and Dorante (Garrel), a former nobleman whose fortunes have fallen to the point that he must take a job as her secretary. We know from the start that Dorante is planning on marrying Araminte to get her money (though he does claim to be completely in love with her as well). However, Araminte has another suitor who also has a financial stake in her as well – he will either marry her or sue her over a land issue. In the meantime, her assistant Marton (Combes) thinks Dorante is in love with her.

Family, friends and servants scheme and use subterfuge to keep Araminte and Dorante apart. Araminte herself feels that it is an impossible situation, but she can’t resist the thrill she gets when Dorante pledges his love.

The movie looks spectacular, and the dialogue is often quite lovely, if not always natural coming out of modern characters. However, the play itself seems a bit awkward and flat translated onto film. In one brief, late scene, the only portion of the film that the actual theater is shown, makes the audience wonder how much better it would have been to see this material performed live. I rather suspect it would have worked considerably better as theater. However, since most of us missed the production, this will have to be the next best thing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: July 14, 2017.

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