History has its headlines, but also its page sixes. The Innocents, in following a group of Polish nuns immediately after WWII, is a sharp and sad examination of forgotten tales.
Russians have settled in across the country, and in continuing the Nazis’ havoc have raped the women of the convent. Nine months later, seven complications are arriving. An atheist nurse is brought in but, of course, no one can know this; in a unique twist, the Mother Superior is not covering it up to protect the Church, but to protect the women, who’ll be shunned from society if anyone finds out.
Anne Fontaine directs with restraint and a deep bank of subtle tricks, using the harshness of the Polish snow to her striking aesthetic advantage. Mostly, she allows the confluence of stimulating ideas and themes and, above all, her sheer compassion for these issues to emerge on their own terms in three impeccable central performances.
As the Mother Superior, Agata Kulesza brings the same steeliness and clear vulnerability as she did in Ida, transforming an often one-dimensional archetype of authority into something more. But it’s Agata Buzek who steals everything, inhabiting her own nun with so much spark and so many layers, her face a palpable source of reassurance throughout.
Despite Fontaine’s supreme control of tone, however, there are missteps. The religious aspect takes over and forms a slightly too neat climax, while the ending itself seems inappropriately pat. Perhaps this would’ve been better served as a longer character study.
An accomplished and moving drama about ignored narratives, womanhood and religion, The Innocents would perhaps be better served focusing less on the latter. Catholic guilt in cinema is nothing new; Fontaine’s cornucopia of other deep questions, frustratingly, are. This is by turns completely alive and selfconsciously dour; a serious gem.
CAST: Lou de Laâge, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne
DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine
WRITERS: Pascal Bonitzer, Anne Fontaine, Sabrina B. Karine, Alice Vial
SYNOPSIS: In December 1945, a convent of Polish nuns and a secular French nurse deal with the ramifications of Russian occupation.