Review by Lauryn Angel
Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents tells a story based on true events that occurred in Poland in 1945, in the aftermath of World War II. Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laage) is a doctor with the French Red Cross, who visits a local convent at the behest of one of the nuns. Upon her arrival, Mathilde tends to one of the nuns, who is pregnant and in labor. Mathilde quickly realizes the problem, and performs a c-section, saving both mother and child. It’s a stunning scene, and one that sets the stage for the horrific tragedy soon to unfold.
Mathilde’s patient is not the only pregnant nun in the convent. Mere Abesse (Agata Kulesza) resists Mathilde’s inquiries, afraid she will reveal the convent’s secret to the town. Eventually, however, she and Sister Maria (Agata Buzek) accept Mathilde’s assistance and reveal what they consider to be their shame: several Soviet soldiers invaded the convent and violated several of the nuns. Horrified, Mathilde agrees to help the nuns by administering medical care to the expectant mothers and delivering the babies.
The film has a very cold and severe aesthetic, which works very well with the themes of shame and deception, which pervade not only the scenes at the convent, but trickle into other areas of Mathilde’s life, including her relationship with Samuel (Vincent Macaigne), with whom she eventually shares the secret. At the heart of these themes is the age-old question of good and evil, with Mathilde and the mother superior at odds on the question of moral obligations.
The Innocents is a difficult movie to watch because of its tragic subject matter and philosophical challenges, but it is well worth it for the strong performances and honest approach to historical events.