Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Innocents – faith waivers as new life emerges in a post-WW2 Polish convent (QFT 18-24 Nov)

A junior doctor working in Poland steps into the breach to medically care for a group of nuns living in a convent at the end of WW2. Persecuted by Germans, repeatedly raped by Russians, one novice eventually asks for help and introduces a communist French Red Cross worker to the multiple pregnancies being hidden within the thick stone walls.

Lou de Laâge plays the junior doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (based loosely on the experiences of Madeleine Pauliac working in Poland) who must secretly break her organisation’s rules of medical engagement to intervene while the nuns disguise their impending motherhood while continuing to lead lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. Agata Buzek plays Sister Maria who acts as the main go-between and speaker of French, perhaps the wisest and most resourceful in the holy order.

There are many inescapable parallels set up between the religious and medical vocations. Just as the nuns attempt to hide new life from the outside world, Madeleine tries to conceal her extracurricular work from her gruff colleague and bed-warmer. Mother Superior (Agata Kulesza) must be obeyed and not questioned, just as the chief of the medical mission blindly follows orders. But those who know best are not always acting in the best interests of the most vulnerable.

The suffering of women during and after conflict is often underreported. The Innocents tells one such story, warts and all. The countryside is snowy and desolate, the convent dull and grey, the habits black and white. The absence of colour and the minimal musical scoring allows director Anne Fontaine to keep the focus on the warmth of the women who dominate the 115 minute storyline.

The nature and outworking of faith is explored along with the role of obedience, obligation, fulfilment and happiness. It’s a story of building and losing trust – alas through shared traumatic experiences – and of overcoming shame and roadblocks in order to search for ways to adapt faith to new circumstances.

There is hope and new life, but also unexpected darkness and needless death. An unexpectedly rich and thoughtful film.

The Innocents is being shown in the Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 18 and Thursday 24 November.

No comments: