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Facets presents
Confession (Povinnost) (1998)

"The sea has neither sense nor compassion."
- The Captain, quoting from a play by Chekhov.

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: March 29, 2005

Stars: Serguei Bakai
Director: Alexander Sokurov

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief language, scenes of male nudity)
Run Time: 03h:28m:36s
Release Date: March 29, 2005
UPC: 736899096229
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D D-C+C D-

DVD Review

I feel fairly confident that I'd be an ideal CIA agent. I'm not the most physically fit man, nor do I have any experience with firearms. However, I did just finish watching Alexander Sokurov's Confession (Povinnost) and am now convinced that if imparted with vital information, no amount of torture would cause me to reveal it.

Sokurov is hailed as the greatest living Russian director, and he may very well be (I'm unqualified to comment). He studied under the acclaimed Andrei Tarkovsky, the man who gave us the original version of Solaris. Had I known this bit of information, I never would have wandered anywhere near Sokurov's work, since I believe Tarkovsky is one of the most overrated directors in history. But, next to his pupil, Tarkovsky is akin to Da Vinci. At least his movies had stories.

So what is Confession about? I don't know, and it's not in that good David Lynch kind of way. According to numerous sources, it's a documentary told in five parts that originally aired on Russian television in 1998. However, at the beginning of each episode, there's a text card claiming that the events and characters are the creations of the author's imagination. That certainly would make for an odd documentary, since they usually tend to dabble in the real world. One thing that seems certain is that the "author" is the captain of a Russian battleship, cruising through the Arctic. The captain is never named directly, though he appears to be played by one Serguei Bakai on the basis of the credits (this is operating under the assumption that the movie isn't a documentary). In the over three-hour running time, there is only one scene that features him actually conversing with another person. For the most part the movie is a collection of muddy images with the captain's thoughts serving as narration via voiceover.

Sokurov's intention, it seems, is to paint the portrait of a man in despair, utilizing a stream-of-consciousness approach. The captain's life is monotonous, depressing, claustrophobic. He orders physical examinations of his men, studying them and wondering what they truly think of their service in the military. If in fact this is a documentary, it would be nice to actually have these men converse with the camera. However, as it is, they mostly remain unnamed and are seen mopping the floors and sleeping. It turns out that, like the captain, I became depressed and claustrophobic while watching Confession.

Adding to the discomfort of the movie is Sokurov's choice of visuals. Shot on video, the images are largely washed-out in a sepia tone. The light sources are usually just out of frame, casting unpleasant shadows onto the faces of the individual sailors. Also, the setting of the vessel is so cramped that it made me want to gasp for air. Of course warships are this way, but Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot never had a negative effect on its audience this way and still managed to convey the tight corridors of a U-boat.

Worst of all, though, is the pacing and length of the movie. At nearly three and a half hours, Confession feels more like three days. Next to this, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a Spielbergian adventure on steroids. I'm sure this is Sokurov's point, but it's just off-putting.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.00:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The video footage is fairly unpleasant, so there's little that the transfer could do here to make it aesthetically pleasing. The nonanamorphic 2.00:1 widescreen is seemingly an accurate rendering of the source. Artifacting is not an issue, nor is edge enhancement. However, it's still lifeless.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Russian mono track is as lifeless as the image transfer. There's little to hear apart from some occasional dialogue and the narration, both of which seem to be audible (note, however, that I don't speak Russian).

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Digital Booklet—accessed by DVD-ROM, containing editor's notes and crew information.
Extras Review: Besides the five subtitle tracks, there is a Digital Booklet that is accessed by placing the second disc in your DVD-ROM. For those with this technology, you'll find editor's notes, biographies, and filmographies.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Long, dull, pointless. Those three words encompass Alexander Sokurov's Confession perfectly. The DVD is every bit as dull, so let this ship disappear under the frozen tundra.


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