The Innocents (Les Innocentes) Theatrical Review
The Innocents (Les Innocentes) is a masterful look at how our experiences shape and change us. The messages of perseverance and hope in a time of despair are powerful.
It's 1945 in Warsaw and Mathilde (Lou de Laage; L'Attessa) is a French Red Cross doctor helping to tend to the French wounded soldiers. When a Polish nun comes begging for her to help the convent Mathilde is reluctant. However, once she follows the nun what she finds is shocking. She discovers one nun in labor and several more in the advanced stages of pregnancy - all raped by soldiers.
As she agrees to help, she begins making clandestine trips to the convent to deliver these bastard children one by one. As the nuns are very pious and take a vow not to be touched they are at first reluctant to allow her to examine them but eventually they learn to trust her. Once the newborns are delivered the Reverend mother (Agata Kulesza; Ida) takes them to their new families or so the nuns are lead to believe.
Over time there is a level of trust and friendship between the ladies of the convent and Mathilde, especially with one French-speaking nun in particular, Maria (Agata Butek; Redemption) who acts as a translator. As the nuns struggle with their plight, their faith begins to waiver and they seek guidance from non-believer Mathilde. Mathilde also begins to struggle with her own thoughts as she becomes enveloped into this fiercely private world.
This film is a masterful look at how our experiences shape and change us. The messages of perseverance and hope in a time of despair are powerful. The dialog is minimal at times, which allows the silence to fill the moments and give the audience a chance to reflect on these women's plights. The subtle nuances of Fontaine's direction draws the audience in and captivates us. Her use of color (or lack there of, as the case may be) until the very end of the film is effective and obviously deliberate.
de Laage is superb as Mathilde and her gentle strength comes across as clear and true. Kulesza and Butek are also terrific as the leaders of the convent at odds with what has happened yet resigned to do what is necessary to protect the nuns and their convent. The entire cast blends well and makes this film truly an ensemble piece while simultaneously showcasing its stars.
For those who like independent, foreign films this is a treat in a sea of options to choose from. Well written, well cast, intently filmed, it is a highlight to many of the film festivals at which it has been screened. Worthwhile and noteworthy, I recommend spending a few hours devouring this movie. It makes the audience think about the innocent victims of war whether it is the orphans, the nuns or their infants and the perseverance of the human spirit at the worst of times.
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