Innocence (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/11/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 115 mins

Haunting, lyrical, atmospheric film that’s a bit like a cross between Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Village. In a good way.

Aside from having one of cinema’s most unpronounceable names, Lucile Hadzihalilovic is best known as the wife and frequent collaborator of controversial French director Gaspar Noe, who made Irreversible and Seul Contre Tous. Innocence marks her directorial debut and it’s a stunning accomplishment that works both as a compelling mystery tale and a haunting allegory about maturing into adulthood.

The Corporal Punishment Of Young Girls

The film is adapted from an obscure 1888 novella entitled Mine-Haha, or the Corporal Punishment of Young Girls, by German poet and all-round avant-gardist Frank Wedekind. It opens with some shots of a building deep in the forest and a coffin being delivered to a room. The coffin is opened by a group of girls who range in age and are all wearing school uniform, differentiated only by their different-coloured headbands.

Out of the coffin steps Iris (Zoe Auclair), a five year old child who naturally wonders where she is. She’s quickly informed that she is now “home”, that leaving is forbidden and also that she won’t be seeing her brother again. She’s given a coloured headband and it’s clear that each of the girls has been through the same process.

It transpires that the girls are at a mysterious boarding school, where each dormitory house consists of girls ranging from Iris’s age to the age of the oldest girl, Bianca (Berangere Haubruge), who is approaching adolescence. Their classes seem to consist only of biology and ballet and every evening, Bianca has to take a secret walk to a larger hall in order to prepare for some ambiguous future role.

Once Iris has uncovered Bianca’s secret, the narrative shifts focus and briefly follows a girl who drowns in a failed rowboat escape and another who sets her heart on being picked early for her ballet skills and then decides to escape by scaling the wall. We are also shown various exchanges between the girls’ two twenty-something teachers (played by Marillon Cotillard and Helene de Fougerolles) that hint at a larger sense of menace.

Intensely Atmospheric

The script recalls Picnic at Hanging Rock in its tantalising refusal to provide any answers and Hadzihalilovic creates an extremely intense atmosphere that, like Picnic, is at once idyllic and sinister.

The film’s most controversial scene is a lengthy shot of several young girls bathing in the river, naked. No doubt, if the film had been directed by a man, there would have been a national outcry; as it is, the scene serves to perfectly illustrate the state of non-sexualised innocence the girls exist in and it says something about today’s society that the scene feels so uncomfortable.

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Benoit Debie and Hadzihalilovic gets superb performances from her young cast, most of whom were, ironically, chosen from dance classes.

In short, Innocence is an impressively made, intensely atmospheric film that is both haunting and compelling. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 16/02/2019 12:26

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