The Innocents (Les innocentes) (2016)

brooke I don’t know how this movie exists, but I am ever grateful to the people who created it.

casey It made me sad…but, good sad? It’s an experience, I’ll say that.

brooke The Innocents takes place in 1945 Poland, opening on a team of French Red Cross volunteers in aftermath of the war. One of the medical students, Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge), is approached by a Polish nun and asked to visit her convent, where we learn that several of the sisters are in advanced stages of pregnancy. The reason why soon becomes appallingly clear, and Mathilde finds herself stuck: her duty as a doctor is to help the women survive and provide medical care to their babies, but the nuns are terrified of being found out and shunned, and some refuse to even be touched. Mathilde also has to deal with a suspicious Mother Superior, Mére Abesse (Agata Kulesza), a Red Cross supervisor who hates Poles, and the threat of hostile Soviet soldiers roaming the countryside.

casey It’s the kind of show that’s hard to recommend for light weekend entertainment: “Hey, how does a French movie about the intersection of war, faith, and sexual violence sound?” But it’s thoughtful, moving, and very watchable in spite of its difficult subject.

brooke It’s compelling because of how real it feels. The nuns are traumatized and living with with a level of terror they never expected to deal with, their lives deeply impacted by the violence they’ve endured, yet they try to live like it never happened. As anyone who’s taken a psych class could tell you, this isn’t always the best strategy.

casey Mathilde also has her own inner conflict as a communist and an atheist who is at times justifiably annoyed by the nuns’ stubborn zealotry, and de Laâge plays her with an understated, sympathetic and captivating resolve, and the movie is compassionate towards all its characters, even ones who do awful things.

brooke From beginning to end, the writing and acting carry the story in a way that transcends the language barrier (the film is subtitled from French and Polish).
It starts out seeming like a sensationalized story about trauma, but in the end it’s about faith. Sometimes faith gives strength, and sometimes it’s misguided, but it’s the undercurrent pulling the story forward.

casey I think both of us appreciated The Innocents a lot. It’s somber, but not hopeless. The ending goes in a direction that feels a bit jarringly happy given everything that comes before, but I think it mostly works.

brooke The final scene has a very different tone, but it feels earned. These women suffered something no one should have to deal with, and then they have to find homes for these babies the world can’t know about. When they find a solution, the ending fits for me.

casey Either way, The Innocents is powerful. It’s not quite perfect, and there are a few subplots we didn’t get into that are a bit less effective, but if you’re looking for a good sad watch, look no further.

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2 comments

  1. CineMuseFilms · February 11

    Great post thank you. I found The Innocents to be soulful essay on a difficult subject. The atrocities against nuns are portrayed as a complex metaphorical struggle between religious faith, medical science, and evil. Quite a haunting film really.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brooke W · February 11

      I completely agree. And the way the nuns struggle with the aftermath in different ways. There is a lot of beauty in The Innocents despite the subject matter.

      Liked by 1 person

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