Whitby Film Society
Innocents - France 2016
A subdued but potent glimpse of female suffering in the aftermath of conflict, inspired by a true story from the second world war, a tragic drama adapted from the eyewitness account of French nurse Madeleine Pauliac, who served with the French Red Cross in Poland in 1945.
The mesmerising Lou de Laâge plays Mathilde, a young French Red Cross worker in Poland in 1945, who is approached by a desperate novice nun for help. Inside the walls of the convent, she discovers a terrified woman giving birth. It soon becomes clear that she is a nun, and several of the other sisters are also in the same condition after repeated attacks by Russian soldiers.
The sisters refuse official help but the Mother in charge reluctantly accepts Mathilde’s offer to nurse the women secretly through their pregnancies. They are in horror-struck denial, unable to relinquish the belief that it must somehow be their fault. One stricken soul clings fast to the delusion that her attacker gallantly defended her against worse assault, and that he is now her “fiance”. As for Mathilde’s colleagues, they have no great regard for the Polish Catholic church. Guilt and shame hang heavy thereabouts, like the fallen snow.
It’s a striking, sober film – the restrained use of music contrasts the exquisite devotional song of the sisters with the ugliness of their situation; the black and white of the habits is echoed in the stark winter landscape outside the convent walls.