Anne Fontaine | France, Poland, 2016
French, Polish, Russian | 115 minutes
With: Lou de Laâge, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek and Vincent Macaigne
Opening with peaceful, serene images set within a convent, director Anne Fontaine quickly establishes the illusion that will soon be broken in her new film The Innocents. A group of nuns sing in unison, before being interrupted by a harrowing scream. This cry in the dark later becomes a recurring motif, as the sobering drama recounts the traumatic experiences following a case of sexual violence in post-World War II Poland.
In December 1945, a young French Red Cross medical student, Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge), is sent to Poland as part of a medical mission to find, treat and repatriate French survivors of the German camps. One day, a Polish nun arrives in the hospital. In very poor French, she begs Mathilde to come to her convent. Mathilde life and beliefs change when she discovers the advanced state of pregnancy that affects several of the Sisters of the convent just outside the hospital where she works.
Inspired by the exploits of Madeleine Pauliac, a Red Cross doctor who ministered to Polish rape victims while treating French patients at a post-war Warsaw hospital, this is a harrowing insight into the cruel realities of conflict that is bound to draw comparisons with Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods And Men and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, especially as Agata Kulesza, Joanna Kulig and Dorota Kuduk appear in both films. But this also contains echoes of Max Färberböck’s A Woman In Berlin and Wojciech Smarzowski’s Rose, as it similarly explores the fate of women as Soviet forces turned liberation into a new form of oppression.