A TEST OF FAITH
It never ceases to amaze me that seventy years after the end of WWII, stories about the horrors of that war are still being unearthed. And as we’ve come to know, all too well, not all wars are fought on the battlefield. The Innocents, based on the journal of Madeleine Pauliac (known as Mathilde Beaulieu in the film), was a young French Red Cross doctor assigned to a hospital on the outskirts of Warsaw. She was responsible for the care of the remaining French soldiers before their repatriation.
One day she is summoned for a medical emergency by a nun from a nearby convent, but the young doctor could not imagine what lay behind the locked doors of the monastery. Her shocking discovery unveils a tragedy that has befallen the sisters. Many of the nuns, trying unsuccessfully to hide unwanted pregnancies under the voluminous folds of their habits are about to give birth; raped by Soviet troops.
The film takes place in December of 1945 and although the war was over, it had decidedly not ended for the nuns. The Russian Army, maintaining a presence in Poland, lurked between the monastery and the Red Cross post, make it difficult for the doctor to provide aid to the sisters so desperately in need.
Directed by Anne Fontaine (Gemma Bovery/Coco Before Chanel), she mercifully spares the audience from the visions of the horrors, leading us more towards a path of hope. The story, told through the eyes of Mathilde (played luminously by Lou de Laaâge) is an atheist. Her beliefs starkly depict the dichotomy between herself and the nuns who have taken vows of chastity.
Samuel (Vincent Macaigne), her Jewish colleague, carries a torch for Mathilde. His presence elevates the somber mood of the film, revealing his humanity albeit through many layers of sarcasm. As you can imagine, he also has a tragic tale to tell, but his role is markedly brief.
The Innocents examines questions and dilemmas that we have all encountered: how does one keep their faith and innocence in a world that at times seems full of hate? The Innocents does not answer the question, but it does draw attention to its relevance, even today – 70 years later.
The Innocents was an Official Selection of the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best Feature at this years Jerusalem Film Festival.
The Innocents opens Friday, July 15 at the Angelika Dallas and Plano
In French, Polish and Russian
Runtime: 115 minutes
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including sexual assault, and for some bloody images and brief suggestive content
Reprinted with permission of the Texas Jewish Post