Tauter, more humane and engrossing than his Oscar-winning Z (1969), Costa-Gavras’s L’aveu derives from a firsthand published account of the 1952 Czechoslovak show trials, ordered by Soviet premier Stalin, that aimed to purge the Czechoslovak Communist Party of undesirables on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage. One defendant was Party-loyal Artur London, vice-minister of foreign affairs, the author, along with his French wife, Lise, of the book on which the film is based. London was Jewish, as were eleven of the thirteen defendants (Stalin was a lifelong anti-Semite), but one of only three defendants to be spared a death sentence and subsequent execution. After Stalin’s own death, London was released from his life sentence in 1955 and “rehabilitated” in 1963. His experience was a waking nightmare of sleep deprivation, beatings and other forms of torture to make him sign a voluminous series of ridiculous “confessions.” (In a patchwork of forced confessions, each defendant’s lie(s) corroborated the “truth” of other defendants’ lies.) London was also urged to plead guilty to crimes he did not commit for the good of the Party. His confessions convinced even Lise; if the Communist Party said something was so, it had to be so. Isn’t the Party always right?
This is a grim, unrelenting film, a portrait of Party and state insanity, and a reminder of Stalin’s penchant for Party purges—its last act, as it were. But the film ends with London’s return to Czechoslovakia from France in time to witness post-Stalin Communism: Soviet tanks rolling into Prague, demolishing the liberalizing “Prague Spring.” This powerful, compelling film reflects the disillusionment with Sovietism underwent by Costa-Gavras, scenarist Jorge Semprun, and stars Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, who play Artur and Lise London.
Best foreign film, Italian critics; best foreign director, Sant Jordi.
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