The Innocents

Review by Poppy Doran @poppydoran

Directed by

Anne Fontaine

Starring

Agata Buzek Agata Kulesza Lou de Laâge

Anticipation.

Sacrebleu! Anne Fontaine celebrates a forgotten French heroine.

Enjoyment.

Tragedies reveal themselves like falling dominoes in this traumatising tale.

In Retrospect.

The horrors of war stretch far beyond the battlefield.

French director Anne Fontaine explores female persecution in this punishing but urgent period drama.

Poland, 1945: a young, French doctor breaks Red Cross protocol to deliver a number of secret babies. Actress Lou de Laâge turns in a detailed and subtle performance as medic Mathilde, who works in a Polish convent recovering from an “indescribable nightmare”. What first appears as a place of peaceful refuge that’s far from the bloody carnage of the frontline is unveiled as hell on earth.

These women were repeatedly raped during a three day raid by Russian soldiers. They question their faith as their every thought is consumed by shame. The Innocents is a harrowing true story, so full of sorrow that watching it is a traumatic experience, but also a necessary one.

The convent is a quarantine, closed off from the simple joys of life during peacetime. These women are imprisoned by bedrooms referred to as ‘cells’ and stranded by the featureless, rolling landscape which flanks them on all sides. Co-writer/director Anne Fontaine employs rapid edits and fractured dialogue sequences to mirror the inner turmoil of her characters. Some scenes are slowly place and given a bluish hue, acting as a visual testament to collective depression. The contrasting lifestyles of sexually liberated Mathilde and her devout patients is deliberate. While she kisses her naked lover, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek) kisses the feet of her crucifix.

Fontaine excels with low-lit visuals and profound dialogue – “Faith is 24 hours of doubt and one minute of hope”. She refrains from buttering the audience up with unnecessary melodrama. Her stoical female characters instead engage in everyday tasks. They wash, cook and clean. It is through their usefulness that they find solace by the end of the film. The Innocents – tackling rape, war and religion – is an ambitious film. The gamble is worth it, though, making for a harrowing portrait of womanhood at war.

Published 11 Nov 2016

Anticipation.

Sacrebleu! Anne Fontaine celebrates a forgotten French heroine.

Enjoyment.

Tragedies reveal themselves like falling dominoes in this traumatising tale.

In Retrospect.

The horrors of war stretch far beyond the battlefield.

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