Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Starring Marion Cotillard (Jeux d'enfants), Hlne de Fougerolles (Va savoir), Zo Auclair
Weird, surreal and somewhat disturbing, what you take from this film is very much down to your state of mind. The film starts with water which plays a major part in the film, bubbling water giving you the feeling that you are pressing forward through it, I dont know why but it made me think of being born. The camera then meanders through a forested area dotted with paths, very pretty and natural until the camera stops! A metal grating sits in the floor of the forest, there is something disturbing and unnatural about this, this man made object stuck in this supposed wilderness.
The camera is then under the grill, passing through old dark passages, through doors and empty rooms until it stops in front of a coffin and there it stays. Gradually five girls enter the room, all in white uniforms only differentiated by the colour of the ribbons in their hair, they open the coffin and a young girl slowly awakens as if from a long sleep looking slightly bemused. This is Iris and like her, this is the viewers introduction to this strange establishment.
The viewer is made to feel as lost, estranged and as puzzled as Iris does, given little snippets of information as if from her perspective you learn that this is in fact a school, a very exclusive boarding school with a maximum of 30 pupils from age 6 till they leave as 12 year olds. The girls are split into dorms, each with 6 children, the eldest acting as carer for the others, they are waited on by white haired old women who appear to spend most of their time living in the shadows. There are only 2 teachers, one who teaches dance while the other teaches science, specifically biology.
Iris soon learns about the rules, while at the school she will have no contact with anyone outside, neither can she leave, obedience is essential and drilled into the girls from day one. There are many scenes such as the girls constant repetitive movement and dance that seems pointless at the time, only later on will you realise that it all has purpose and meaning.
Another new arrivval latches on to Iris but is intent on escaping, again the symbolism of water comes into play as she makes her vain attempt. Iris becomes "clingy" to the eldest girl in her dorm Bianca who has a habit of disappearing every evening, Iris follows her and catches glimpses of things beyond her understanding, because you view things from her perspective, these sights are also left beyond your comprehension.
From Iris, the story moves to Alice, another girl from the same dorm who is in her fourth year at the school, she has a chance of leaving but only if she can impress the Head Mistress on her once yearly visit. She and the other fourth year girls have to dance for the Head, who then takes the one that pleases her the most. Where does she take them? Thats left to the viewers imagination.
Finally the perspective is again changed to Bianca, in her last year. Now the reasons for everything becomes clearer (or not!) where does Bianca go every evening and why? She is accompanied by the second oldest girl from her dorm who will shortly be starting her last year, Bianca is there to not only finish her 6 year education but to instruct and help her replacement to take her place.
This is the sort of film you could carry on writing about for a long time, it has and no doubt will continue to attract praise and condemnation in varying amounts. There are a multitude of reasons why you could find it disturbing, many have taken offence to seeing 6 and 7 year olds swimming topless?
What I found disturbing was the whole reasoning for the school, the continuous references to obedience, not just in terms of the school but as a life skill. Six years of training and educating which appears to be nothing more than a form of brainwashing to create an object of perfection, obedient, subjugated and supplicating to the whims of their future partner. As this was adapted from a short story, I wonder if the author was aiming criticism at the types of private schools for girls that basically taught deportment, manners and very little else creating wives for the upper classes who new their place in society and within their family structure. That's probably the most straightforward interpretation though the whole film is open to many trains of thought and analysis.
Innocence is a good title for the film, its what the girls are when they arrive at the school until the moment they leave, seperated from family, friends and especially boys. They develop during that time from caterpillars to graceful butterflies. Why do they arrive in coffins, why are they cut off from the people they love, what happens to those who attempt to leave, what is the real purpose of the school? all this is open to interpretation which makes for quite an enigmatic film.
If you like Innocence, I also recommend The Company of Wolves
BBFC rated 15
R2 Pal dvd available from Artificial Eye