The Innocents

 

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Poland, 1945: the bleakest of bleak mid-winters provides the setting for this true story.

 

The Innocents

Anna Próchniak, Lou de Laâge and Agata Buzek

 

Although this is a French-Polish co-production made by the French director Anne Fontaine, this film, set in Poland in December 1945, takes its character from its location. Like 2013's Ida, this is a drama that involves both believers (the nuns of a Benedictine convent) and non-believers including members of a French Red Cross unit stationed in the area. The mother abbess of the convent (Agata Kulesza, the aunt in Ida) plays an important part in the story which has a factual basis, but the two characters who count most of all are the young Red Cross doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge) and the most sensitive of the nuns, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek).

 

More often than not, a critic reviewing a film can readily disclose the subject matter even if plot developments are better left unrevealed. Here, however, I am inclined to feel that this sombre film will most readily exert its power over viewers unaware of the situation which, soon made clear, is at the heart of the film. Consequently, I will merely state that Mathilde is summoned to the convent to help in a crisis situation but is sworn to secrecy and only when there is no alternative does she inform her lover, a Jewish doctor (Vincent Macaigne), of just what is going on.

 

Initially limiting its music to singing by the nuns, the film does later utilise a score by Grégoire Hetzel, but Fontaine ensures that the austere style does not lead into melodrama. She is helped in this by the way in which The Innocents is embedded in Polish experience for the story, unusual though it is, does reflect most strongly the post-war suffering of the Poles at the hands of the Russians and the conflict in Poland between deeply entrenched Catholicism and those sceptical about religious faith.

 

If The Innocents is not a masterpiece, it is because it refuses to grasp the nettle at the heart of the story: it may be ready to portray one character in a cold light while playing down the inherent tragedy of her situation, but when it comes to the issue of faith it wants to be all things to all men. Nevertheless, this is an impressive and properly serious film made gripping by the convincing performances of Lou de Laâge and Agata Buzek.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Eliza Rycembel, Katarzyna Dabrowska, Anna Próchniak, Dorota Kuduk, Pascal Elso.


Dir Anne Fontaine, Pro Eric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer, Screenplay Sabrina B.Karine, Alice Vial, Anne Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer from a concept by Philippe Manila, Ph Caroline Champetier, Pro Des Joanna Macha, Ed Annette Dutertre, Music Grégoire Hetzel, Costumes Katarzyna Lewinska.


Mandarin Films/Aeroplan Film/Mars Films/France 2 Cinéma/Scope Pictures etc.-Picturehouse Entertainment.
115 mins. France/Poland/Belgium. 2016. Rel: 11 November 2016. Cert. 15
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