Things come to a crossroads when religious beliefs interfere with medical attention, however, they must learn to trust each other in order to protect the nuns’ secret and their lives.
As if the image of nuns being raped by soldiers during World War II isn’t enough to make one’s stomach churn, the most shocking takeaway from director Anne Fontaine’s “The Innocents” is that the horrific acts depicted in the film are based on true events in the life of French doctor and Resistance fighter Madeleine Pauliac. “The Innocents” screened at Sundance earlier this year and earned praise for its interpretation of the aftermath of WWII told from the perspective of women, and has now made it’s way into theaters.
December 1945. A young Polish nun in distress arrives at a hospital begging for help. Her situation is unknown, and the Polish-French language barrier doesn’t help her or the doctors trying to decipher what she is saying. A French Red Cross doctor, Mathilde (Lou de Laâge), steps in and takes it upon herself to help the sister. Soon, she discovers that the woman is not the one in need of help, rather it is her entire cloistered Benedictine convent. Mathilde discovers that many of the sisters, seven to be exact, have fallen pregnant from a series of brutal sexual assaults by Russian soldiers of the Red Army.
Shamed, embarrassed, and terrified, Mathilde becomes their only confidant. Herself a non-believer, she is met with resistance by the Reverend Mother (Agata Kulesza) who questions Mathilde’s every move. Things come to a crossroads when religious beliefs interfere with medical attention, however, they must learn to trust each other in order to protect the nuns’ secret and their lives.
Anne Fontaine, whose credits include “Adore”, “Gemma Bovery” and “Coco Before Chanel” creates palpable tension in this situational drama of people from two worlds trying to unify as one for the greater good. Considered one of France’s most distinguished writer/directors, Fontaine brings to light the struggle between faith and emotional uncertainty. These nuns took a vow of lifelong devotion to Jesus Christ, chastity included, and due to no fault of their own, have found themselves victims of a horrendous crime. They question if this is God’s plan, and if so– why? They deal with internal struggles in their own ways, some more rational than others.
As the subject matter would suggest, “The Innocents” is a dark drama that has the power to evoke palpable emotions. However, one of the film’s greatest gifts is that we do not pity these women; they are strong, independent characters who face their situation head-on and deal with it. They are innocent victims, yet do not act as such. Fontaine creates not only a feminist protagonist in Mathilde, but also the nuns she helps. “The Innocents” is a sensitive and powerful film that is compelling both visually and emotionally, another success for Anne Fontaine and female-centric films as a whole.
“The Innocents” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including sexual assault, and for some bloody images and brief suggestive content. 115 minutes. Now playing at the Landmark Theater.