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Le Confessionnal

(The Confessional)

Year: 1994
Language: English and French
Format: 35mm Colour/Black & White
Runtime: 100 min
Director: Robert Lepage
Producer: David Puttnam, Steve Norris, Denise Robert, Philippe Carcassonne
Writer: Robert Lepage
Cinematographer: Alain Dostie
Editor: Emmanuelle Castro
Sound: Hans Strobl
Music: Adrian Utley
Cast: Richard Fréchette, Normand Daneau, Marie Gignac, Ron Burrage, Kristin Thomas, Jean-Louis Millette, Patrick Goyette, François Papineau, Lothaire Bluteau
Production Company: Enigma Film Ltd. (U.K.), Cinéa, S.A. (Paris), Cinémaginaire Inc. (Montreal)

Robert Lepage was already considered among the most visual of stage directors, when he made his powerful cinematic debut with the feature Le confessionnal, for which he received the Claude Jutra Award. It remains an outstanding achievement: magnificently structured, elegantly photographed and impeccably acted, the film intercuts two storylines in different time periods while probing a family’s murky past in old Quebec City.

Flashbacks to the 1950s are framed around the shooting ofAlfred Hitchcock’s I Confess in Quebec City in 1952. Events that eerily parallel the movie’s script transpire: in a confessional booth, a pregnant, 16-year-old Rachel (Clément) seeks absolution. In the second plot line, 37 years later, Pierre Lamontagne (Bluteau) returns from a three-year trip to China to attend his father’s funeral. His adoptive brother Marc (Goyette) doesn’t turn up, prompting Pierre to seek him out. It turns out that Marc is the child Rachel was carrying at 16. He longs to discover his real father’s identity, so the brothers set out to learn the truth together. In the process, they dig up some unpleasant family secrets.

Lepage’s treatment is never trite; he explores the richness of his themes with mature insight. Laden with astounding transitions, Le confessionnal engages the audience from first frame to last, recalling the director’s finest stage innovations. As Pierre and Marc confront the painful history they have unearthed, the film switches to young Rachel as she negotiates the terrible choices she must make to keep her lover’s identity secret. With suspense equal to a Hitchcock thriller, Le confessionnal drawsus effortlessly into Lepage’s imagined world. The juxtapositions with the ongoing Hitchcock film shoot are cleverly done, and the scenes offer a startling reminder of how much Quebec has changed since 1952.