It’s Roberta Guaspari’s (Meryl Streep) second day at her new job at an East Harlem alternative elementary school teaching violin. Her class is half as large as it has been the first day. They’re still rambunctious with the exception of Naim, who actually pays attention to her. She notices her competition, DeSean, talking about basketball, when she asks him a question on that day’s lesson, about the parts of the violin’s bow. He feigns indifference in not knowing then she replies ‘Yes you were [here], buy you weren’t paying attention. Do you want people to think you’re stupid.’ She turns to her star student, saying ‘Tell him, Naim.’
As the expression goes, her words with the kids are like a confident tightrope walk, and as expected she doesn’t come off as any hurtful. Neither does she look like the naif who miraculously comes up with a quick rebuttal to hurl on the person she’s talking to. Well, she does raise a few alarms from a parent, but that gets ironed out by the urban ‘stop snitching’ code.
The movie also typically shows the difficulties in running and staying in a class related to the arts. The children have to be whipped out of their ADD, which all but one of them apparently have. They have to regard the class as if no other exists. And Roberta deals with her own marital issues and its effects on her own children, having to let them ride a plane on their own on Christmas.
Also cast and crew notes: Directed by horror director Wes Craven, trying something new. Aidan Quinn plays Roberta’s boyfriend. Gloria Estefan plays a teacher/parent who also sang the film’s theme song. The grown-up version of Roberta’s kids are Abe from Mad Men and Kieran Culkin. Don’t pretend you don’t know who that is.
Confessions starts like a ‘taut,’ elegiac film about the eventual loss of innocence, with images of milk cartons and Japanese school children being rambunctious while their teacher meekly prattles on. She announces her resignation for being an ineffective teacher, writes on the chalkboard a huge calligraphic symbol denoting ‘life.’ She eventually gets their attention on a sad, dreadful, unforgettable lesson.
Director Tetsuya Nakashima sometimes uses traffic reflector mirrors to show the kids walking and meeting, or slows down to watch a softball hitting someone’s head. Muted colours dominate the film, only giving breaks of warm red and yellows when characters flashback into happy moments. The music balances out the children’s chaos and eventually is in tune with the teacher’s dread-filled lesson.
Confessions can be also read as a genre film, a revenge horror, comparable to the Noh-inspired examples within the Japanese canon. By revealing that her child’s murderers are two of her students, her calm demeanour turns her into a ghostly figure. She’s a woman both victimized by men and out for revenge, her little victims eventually depicted as incorporating abject elements into their lives.
In revealing that genre spin we can talk about the performances, any of the leads can arguably be best in show, whether it’s the teacher’s slow burning vindication or the students’ evil facades and psychological pain. The transformation and genre-crossing of the film isn’t a smooth transition and the film’s long scenes makes it drag and tonally imperfect, but Confessions is both artistic and engaging. 5/5.
Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel Never Let Me Go, about young adult clones slightly obsessed about their Cytherean childhoods, is now a feature film. Director Mark Romanek uses a linear approach to the story instead of the impressionistic one in the novel, and like any adaptation, it could go either way.
And sure Romanek mixes up a few things from the source material, a small grievance. And there’s many holes in the script that makes all interactions feel set-up and less organic, a bigger grievance. There’s also a lot of details, beautifully shot, that enhances the object-obsessed part of the story Romanek wants to tell.
But who can resist watching Keira Knightley as Ruth transforming from a histrionic, control freak of a girl into a worn down defeatist, needing a walker, giving a performance that’s the best in her career so far? Or Andrew Garfield as Tommy D., the awkward, gentle, brave boy we can’t help but reach out to?
Charlotte Rampling plays an icy Miss Emily. The script could have also given better justice to Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) and to Kathy (Carey Mulligan). The film unfortunately turns Kathy from the sane one into the less than pretty virgin. Though Mulligan could have been better, I like her better here than in An Education. I also like the girl who plays the younger Ruth, being able to change emotions so subtly. Despite of its flaws, the film does pull on your heartstrings, and in Cythera, that should suffice. My rating – 3/5.