DVD: The Innocents (2016)

theinnocentsdvdSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine | CAST: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Eliza Rycembel, Anna Prochniak, Katarzyna Dabrowska 
RELEASE DATE: 9/27/16 | PRICE: DVD $22.99, Blu-ray $23.24
BONUSES: featurette, interview iwth director, Q&A
SPECS: PG-13 | 113 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | French and Polish w/ English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall

Twenty-four hours of doubt for one minute of hope- this is how a nun named Maria describes faith in Anne Fontaine’s (Gemma Bovary) powerful WWII tale The Innocents. It’s a fictional story based on historical facts, which actually sounds like a pretty good description of religion and an apt comparison for a film that questions what place religion might have in a world that seems to perpetually punish the innocent.

It’s Poland, and the war has just ended, but for the Poles, the nightmare has not. Russian soldiers have replaced the German ones–soldiers who have survived a hellish few years and now hold a position of power over the Poles. Small wonder, then, that raping and pillaging has become commonplace among these Russians, but… raping nuns? That’s the situation that a young, pragmatic French Red Cross doctor named Mathilde (Lou De Laage) finds herself dealing with as she begins to secretly treat several pregnant sisters, an action that risks not just her career, but her life.

theinnocents1But it’s not that simple: public shame, fundamentalist dogma, internal religious politics and spiritual doubt all play a role in this tangled web, causing no end of difficulty to both Mathilde and the nuns she tries to help. At first, Mother Abbess (subtly portrayed by Ida’s Agata Kulesza) rejects her offer but, given the dire situation, she eventually allows Mathilde to enter their sanctuary and slowly treat–and win over–the nuns. Though Mathilde is our protagonist, two very distinct nuns represent the real heart of the film. The first, Mother Abbess, chooses dogma over everything else and pays a painful price for it, despite her seemingly good intentions. Kulesza’s performance manages to evoke compassion, despite the restrained demeanor that dominates this hard woman’s character.

But it’s the second nun, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek), who gives the film hope–struggling with but ultimately transcending her training in service of a higher moral calling she discovers within. Her faith is of a different kind–one that treats Mathilde’s soul just as much as Mathilde is treating the nuns. Mathilde, whose stoic nature and unreadable face can frustrate not just the sisters but a Jewish doctor named Samuel who seems to be somewhat in love with her (love is a tricky thing to define when you’ve just survived a genocide), is clearly not religious. Yet by the end of the film, she comes to understand and appreciate the positive role religion can play in people. A quiet film, The Innocents is deceivingly simple in its storytelling, but manages to give you a lot to think about once it’s done.

Music Box Films’ Blu-ray and DVD edition present The Innocents in a nice package that includes an elegant booklet covering the real-life doctor the film was based on, as well as a typical “making of” featurette, an interview with Fontaine, and a film festival Q&A with her and filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (In Darkness), which is worth listening to if you want to know more about not just the story behind the story, but the process of filmmaking itself.

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.