Monday, 16 February 2009

Hitchcock's I Confess

On the 13th I finally had the chance to catch up with Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess (1953). Some friends and I had this movie night and we did watch three of Hitchcock's films & I did fill some of the holes, left from the film class, which I attended as an elective module in my acting education.

I remember talking (in the class) about the New Wave filmmakers (in French: The Nouvelle Vogue) of the late 50's and 60's. We watched most of the films by Truffaut and Godard (most of which I really didn't develop any enthusiasm about). And on Friday night, just before we started watching I Confess, I checked a short article about the film on the Internet andI was mildly surprised to learn that this particular film has been a huge favorite amongst the French New Wave filmmakers. Now, having seen the film, it doesn't surprise me at all. The film does have some of the New Wave storytelling trademarks (including the visualized flashback segments) even though it's filmed in the early 50's. Anyway, what lacks here is Mr. Hitchcock himself! He appears at the beginning of the film, of course!, but his aggressive cinematic style, which I love, isn't there. And the story didn't make me to hold my breath even for a second. The 'mystery' is solved in the first five minutes of the film and I didn't even expect a plot twist to happen along the way. Obviously the filmmakers wanted the film to work as a metaphor: the guilt, the belief, the fear, the sanctity of confession and a priest who is determined to remain silent even if this could ruin his life were all working for the martyrdom theme to appear throughout the film. But the film didn't work as a metaphor, because its goals and themes were presented in a too obvious way. And of course, Otto's words to the priest in the final scene of the movie were just meant to explain it to anybody who didn't get that. Is there such a person after all?! Another problem for the film to work were the way characters were created. About the actors: I understand why Vladimir isn't a fan of Monty Clift's performance, but what I think is that he's terribly miscast. First of all, he isn't Hitch's type of an actor. Just take a look at the actors Hitch really did some miracles with: they are all macho types, whose performances are dependent on their masculine, casual charm. And they're really cinematic actors, who handle the performances in the most direct possible way, while Monty Clift is a stage actor, a Method actor and I don't think he found the director he needed in Alfred Hitchcock. And I can tell you that an actor really needs a director, who understands his way of handling the role to make it work. Talking from my experience, I know that directors usually have the goals list for the actor: what he's expected to achieve within a certain scene, the passages, the emotion swift etc etc. But I don't see it here. I think Clift worked on his own through the whole film, since everything Hitchcock obviously wanted was a calm and reserved priest, who represents all the qualities people expect from such a person. And I'm really terribly disappointed that Hitchcock didn't use one of Clift's best qualities as an actor - that to represent inner turmoil while acting cool in a certain scene. This could have been the case in the scene right after the verdict is read and Clift's on his way out from the court room and facing all the faces of people, who show their hatred toward him. Anyway, Hitchcock still wanted the calm priest - the representation of the ideal. And he structured the performance that way. It confused me, because to me Hitchcock offered up the possibility of creating a believable main character in order for the film to work as a metaphor. But the story itself didn't have the metaphor, which leads to the film (and especially the performance of Clift) to feel empty. You may think: Yeah, here's the actor blaming the director, but that's not true. I'm just confused and I can't even talk about the film the way I talk about other films, because I don't understand it really. Clift does everything he's expected to do. He adopts all the gestures, the calm, quiet voice, the friendly appearance, but despite of that, he never breaths as the character. And I think it's Hitchcock's fault. He just compromised the film for me.

And of course, the other problem is that everything in this film is obvious. There's nothing left for the viewer to figure out, which could have made it a more interesting watch for me. Anne Baxter has a really ungrateful character to play: her Ruth is a character, which is written and directed in the most obvious way: she's in love, she's willing to do everything to defend the man she loves. But all her appearance is in her words. We just don't see anything else. We don't see action, we don't see some real, unexplaine emotion. She talks and talks and she declares what her character desires and thinks and there's no inner story attached here. Karl Malden, on the other hand, has a more interesting part to play and I think he delivers an interesting performance: he's the sole actor, who really was given a tricky part and executes it gracefully. He's the inspector, who likes the priest and despite of that, he feels obligated to persecute him because of his suspicions. The one scene from the film, which I really liked and which I think has this irony in it, is the scene, in which the priest arrives to the inspector's office and the inspector (who believed that the priest just flew) offered to buy him a lunch.

But anyway, I just hate it when people want to find meaning in something, which doesn't have a meaning. The themes of the martyrdom, which everybody is talking about, is represented in the film, but in an obvious way, which for me ruined the experience itself and which stopped the filmmakers from creating a believable story and interesting characters. And film is all about that.


  1. I am happy to see that your impression is very close to mine. Sure, if Hitchcock was a fan of the Method, it might have resulted in something at least half harmonic, but...

  2. Yeah, it feels flat. And dull. The problem is that Hitchcock is no Bergman. He just is very good at structuring a film. At composing it. And he's a really cinematic director, who cannot handle a story like that.

    The funny thing is that Monty Clift's performance is so awfully directed that even though he was in neary every scene, I can't of feel like if he appeared in mere five minutes. I'll write about Rear Window later tonight. Have you seen it?

  3. Yes, I saw Rear Window. I think I saw all Hitch's films after 1930. :-)

    It's interesting that there is something implicit in your comment that reveals the difference in our approach to film. I definitely do believe that the contribution Hitch made to MY kind of cinema is millions times more than the same of Bergman. :-) But that's just me.

  4. yeah, to me Bergman is especially interesting because he's bold in his visual approach, while Hitchcock is more technical and his is pure filmmaking. Bergman is more minimalistic and somehow theatrical. :-) but i'm far more obsessed with the possibilities of Hitch's films - VERTIGO is one of my biggest faves ever. But about Bergman - thinking of his films weeks after I've seen some of them, there are some stills I still don't forget, while Hitchcock feels like an editing machine. Not a single still, but constantly changing images.

  5. That's lots of things to comment on :-) At the moment, I'll just agree what you say about Bergman - but I also remark that some of the stills in Hitch's films are also quite remarkable ;)