The Innocents Review
4.0Overall Score

The Innocents is a title with surprisingly cruel irony for a film that has much more finesse in its actual realisation. Director Anne Fontaine, in a marked shift from her histrionic, erotically charged inter-generational sex drama Adore, shifts gears impressively to bring the necessary delicacy to a devastating true story. As the film opens, a reverent choir of nuns, introduced via intimate tracking shot, are ghosted by the howling cry that echoes through the corridors. One of the younger members sneaks furtively out through a hole in the crumbling wall and treks across the snowy landscape to the nearby town, enlisting the help of playing children to find a foreign doctor – her anxious glances careful to avoid the judgment of the townspeople as best she can.

Mathilde (Lou de Laâge), a French Red Cross doctor staying in town, is astonished by what she finds when she enters the convent. The howling is purely human: one of the nuns is pregnant. The entire convent was raped when invading soldiers tore through their convent, and now the strict, hardened Mother Superior (Ida‘s Agata Kulesza) is desperate to keep their situation a secret for fear of shame and reprimand. That doesn’t stop her being deeply mistrustful of the visiting doctors, as a moral battleground is set; “You don’t brush God aside,” she says brusquely to Mathilde’s impatient remarks.

The Innocents

Lou de Laâge in The Innocents

The audience is drawn into this tussle between religion and science as rapidly as Mathilde is. Caroline Champetier’s cinematography captures the cold atmosphere without being icy; the greys and blues are delicate and soft next to the muddy brown of Mathilde’s trench coat and the stark black and white wimples of the nuns. The convent is a very imposing, isolated building, but the camera never gives us an aerial or wide view, instead remaining grounded in an enduring intimacy with all of the characters.

This closeness with both nuns and doctors alike makes for a film that is much more alert and open than what the audience might expect from its theme. Fontaine and her co-writers slowly subvert our initial impressions of the nuns, finding remarkably diverse characters within the collective – Kulesza brings a painful, tired brittleness to the character that clearly disguises her inability to reconcile the situation with her faith, while Agata Buzek, as her second in command, holds an steely but gentle resolve in her oval face, framed by her wimple.

The Innocents

Agata Buzek in The Innocents

From the discomfiting opening scene to the possibly too idyllic close, The Innocents is a deeply compelling and thoughtful drama that unpacks a great deal without taking an overly provocative tone. The masculine brutality is, one bracing scene aside, only remembered through dialogue, instead allowing the humanity and inner conflict of the nuns to be fully explored. Fontaine has delivered a film of remarkable humanity, uncovering one of history’s most upsetting secrets and drawing immensely graceful drama from it.

The Innocents is in cinemas now. Images courtesy Picturehouse Entertainment.

About The Author

Born in Birmingham and now living in London, David took a love of cinema through two degrees, capping them off with a dissertation on Julianne Moore. (He likes to think he helped her win the Oscar.) He currently works in commercial advertising at Hearst UK and watches as many films as he can in his spare time. You can frequently find him beholden to the visage of Jessica Chastain.

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