The Innocents explores the harrowing effects of rape on a group of Polish nuns after World War Two
The Innocents is a beautifully tragic drama which borrows its idea from the true story of a group of Polish nuns who were repeatedly raped by Soviet soldiers immediately after World War Two ended.
The story is quietly powerful, exposing the shocking and unexpected effect of rape on an uncommon group of people. Highly acclaimed French director Anne Fontaine explores different themes and shares the uplifting nature of unbreakable female unity but also their consequent betrayal.
Although the film has been received positively by critics, so far garnering 95 per cent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 80 reviews), it is by no means Fontaine’s first successful movie, having also directed the transatlantically popular Adoration, Gemma Bovery and Coco before Chanel amongst many other accomplished French films. Working alongside her is cinematographer Caroline Champetier who does a wonderful job of highlighting the nuns’ intense distress following their attack.
What makes it worse for them is that on top of suffering from PTSD they are terrified of being condemned to hell for being touched, something that they perceive as being a sin. When we discover that, the rapes feels all the more tragic and heart breaking as you feel their heightened shame. Champetier manages to skilfully communicate their distress through stillness and muted colours which puts the focus solely on their emotions, thus contrastingly transferring the scene from a quiet atmosphere to one of disquiet.
Fontaine carries out an in depth analysis of the different characters which frequently conflicts with their sense of morality. This is certainly true in the case of the nuns to varying effects, and also, to a certain extent, Samuel, who is Jewish, who early on in the film expresses hatred towards the Polish (they had shunned the Jewish before and during the war) however he later on aids the nuns, helping to deliver some of their children.
The main starring actress is Lou de Laâge, who does an outstanding job of taking on the role of Mathilde, a medical student who helps the nuns. Her presence on screen is magnetic and compelling, as her powerful yet timid vibe gives her a lovely edge that is complimented by the other actors. Vincent Macaigne had me feeling very conflicted with his portrayal of Samuel, Mathilde’s co-worker and lover. Whilst he was charming and provided an element of much needed humour and lightness to the otherwise heavy plot, he also was annoyingly self-deprecating and lacked compassion and tact during a time when it was needed the most. However, I feel this did make him more human and when sharing screen time with Lou de Laâge, he forces her character to reveal the vulnerable and tender side to her that she is reluctant to show.
The Innocents is a tragic film that will genuinely give you goosebumps and make you feel some intense emotions (I confess I cried twice throughout the film) that is solidified by wonderful acting and cinematography. Really worth a watch.