Blu-ray Review: Confidence | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020  


Studio: Kino Lorber

Aug 13, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Does COVID-19 reframe our experiences with art, or do books and films that double as metaphor for the current moment find us with alarming frequency? Like Woody and Buzz in Toy Story, do they wander into our living rooms when we’re not looking?

Andy Samberg’s recent Groundhog Day riff Palm Springs premiered on Hulu this summer rather than in theaters — essentially inviting itself into my homeand the comedy speaks surprisingly (or irreverently) well for the moment. Samberg’s character is stuck in a time loop and must relive the same day endlessly. The predictability eventually becomes comforting and enabling as he slowly loses interest in his old life.

I watched Palm Springs shortly after reading the 1982 novel Wish Her Safe at Home (picked by my book club months before), in which a psychotically unreliable narrator slowly falls in love with her own lonely fantasies in an antique mansion. Not quite quarantine fic — but close. Its cover reminded me of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. So I read that too, and found uncomfortable parallels between 2020 and the depressed psyche of its protagonist who resolves to enter a pharmaceutically enhanced sleep for an entire year.

I asked to review the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of Confidence based on the reputation of the director, the Hungarian auteur István Szabó, without knowing much about its premise, and found myself in relevant quarantine territory again.

In Confidence, a man and woman in WWII-era Hungary must pretend to be husband and wife to hide from the Nazis, even as they are married to other spouses. Their old lives are replaced by isolation, and the intimacy of the arrangement fosters romance. But as they fall in love, they fight guilty feelings about infidelity and the fear of discovery.

The 1980 film was nominated for best Foreign Language Film by the Academy, the first of several nominations for Szabó. Confidence is a good film in its own right, but it can also be seen as an effective warm-up for Szabó’s masterpiece — Mephisto — that arrived the next year. Both films explore duty, cowardice and bravery in the face of political terror.

The man, János (played by Péter Andorai), and woman, Kata (Ildikó Bánsági), in Confidence are members of the anti-fascist resistance. When her cover is compromised, she is given a new identity, whisked away to a safe house and told to never contact her real husband or daughter again for their own protection. János is already accustomed to a life in hiding, and he greats her coldly. He brusquely explains the rules — never disclose personal information to the landlord, never leave the house without his permission. He forces her to burn a photo she has hidden of her husband, but relents when she begs him to keep the only photo of her child. He is strict and even cruel, paranoid and suspicious that she could be a double agent, or even worse, incompetent. Any slip could spell their end.

The small rented apartment becomes, to a large extent, the entirety of their world. And in this void, they push and pull, fall into each other’s arms, become suspicious, and do it all over again. There are brushes with the outside world. A spy within the Hungarian army brings them letters from their spouses, which reignites the feelings of jealousy and guilt. Romance is easier in isolation without the entanglements of real life.

The close confines of Confidence are rustic and elegant and shot with painterly light. Subdued blues and grays mirror the protagonists’ melancholy and despair, and reflect the murkiness of their prospects. Their status as members of the resistance implies bravery, but it’s never clear to what extent János is still involved beyond his own self-preservation. He is haunted by a past betrayal that has destroyed his ability to trust, and he appears to believe in little beyond himself. He has become a coward in his personal life, even if he is not necessarily one politically. Kata is brave in love and feeling, but perhaps less so politically. These contradictions and ambiguities make Confidence fascinating, if not as riveting as the clear-cut moral tragedy of Mephisto, in which a stage actor in Berlin makes a Faustian bargain with Nazi commanders to save his career.

In both stories, what the characters don’t say aloud is often defining. Mephisto’s protagonist refuses to denounce the Nazis and in effect damns his soul. János and Kata cannot share biographical details for their own protection, which leads János to conceal even his current feelings. Some of these unspoken thoughts — tragically close to the lips but never shared — are conveyed to the audience as voice-over narration. So we see and hear more than János or Kata ever confide, and we understand the ironic tragedy of that relationship more than the characters themselves, never more so than in the film’s knockout ending that elevates all that preceded it.


Follow Ed McMenamin on twitter at @edmcmenamin


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