Movie review of ‘The Innocents’: Dark story leads to hope in film about nuns who experience horrors during an army occupation. Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars.
Set in wintry 1945 Warsaw and based on true incidents, Anne Fontaine’s “The Innocents” is a moving study of what happens to the faithful when God’s plan suddenly seems impossible to follow. In its early scenes, a young French Red Cross doctor named Mathilde (Lou de Laâge) is summoned to a rural convent after a frantic nun, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek), pleads with her for help. Upon arriving, Mathilde finds a nun in painful labor — and others in advanced pregnancy. They have endured, explains one haltingly, “an indescribable nightmare,” after a horrific Red Army occupation of the convent some months earlier.
Shot in artful, quiet light (many of the frames look like elegant paintings), “The Innocents” is beautifully performed by its nearly all-female cast; each nun, even those unnamed, is given her own personality and story. And the film mesmerizingly examines the idea of faith: for Mathilde, who wonders how a God could have allowed such horrors to happen; for Sister Maria, who has her own crisis of faith (there’s a time, she says, when “your father lets go of your hand and you’re lost, alone in the dark”); for the Mother Abbess (Agata Kulesza), who struggles in her own relationship with God, and whose impassive face — at times she seems carved from wood — hides still more secrets.
It seems astonishing that such a dark story could end in lightness, but Fontaine finds serenity in the late scenes, with rooms full of women, music and safety. “Faith is 24 hours of doubt,” Maria reminds her new friend Mathilde, “and one minute of hope.”
Movie Review ★★★½
‘The Innocents,’ with Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne. Directed by Anne Fontaine, from a screenplay by Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including sexual assault, and for some bloody images and brief suggestive content. In French and Polish, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown, Grand Cinema.