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Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 3:15 am
by trevor826
Innocence (2004)

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.

Cheers Trev.

If you like Innocence, I also recommend The Company of Wolves

BBFC rated 15

R2 Pal dvd available from Artificial Eye

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 8:44 am
by trevor826
I should add that "Innocence" is full of symbolism (water is just one)and is very open to numerous forms of analysis. If you like the idea of a film that leaves more questions than answers and is likely to play on your mind, Innocence may be what you're looking for.

My comments have only scratched the surface and I look forward to hearing other opinions.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 8:13 am
by madhuban
trev, your review was great! seems like it is a film i'll like very much. have to go hunting.

M

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 3:55 pm
by trevor826
I find it strange that most of the almost sickening comments I've read regarding the way the children have been "used" are from the US and the UK.

I personally find the whole "Beauty Pageant" scene in the US far more sickening and more likely to attract paedophiles than this film ever will. As for the UK, many preach the purity of Victorian values, all I can say is they should check up on their history because for children especially, they were far more troubled times.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 11:17 pm
by Johndav
The dvd film arrived today for my birthday! I hadn't expected as a present (to myself) not only the best film yet by a female director but (along with Maborosi + Pather Panchali) one of the very greatest debuts in the history of cinema, Citizen Kane most definitely included! So there have been disparaging and critical comments? Well, Innocence should immediately become an automatic staple of all film study courses (+ cultural study courses too for that matter). I'll leave my comments at that for the moment, as they may have surprised you.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 12:08 am
by trevor826
Not so much surprised, more like absolutely delighted. I hope you will build on those comments in time because you may have come away from the film with a completely different train of thought than I did.

I held from reading any comments or reviews until I had watched Innocence and was more than a little surprised at some of the remarks from amateur and professional critics alike. To be fair, the most disparaging have come from the UK (at least from the ones I've read) but I don't think its had a proper US release yet.

I watched it twice in two days and I know I will watch it again soon, hopefully with at least one or two of my sons (if they can handle the pacing).

Cheers Trev.

P.S Happy Birthday John.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 8:53 am
by Johndav
Thanks, Trev!

I held this back from yesterday thinking my birthday had affected my judgment. Could a film about young girls at a strange boarding school really be a better feature debut than the mighty Kane?

Well, waking up this morning to have a look at the dvd interview with Hadzihlilovic, i feel more confident in what i was going to say. Of course Kane is a "greater" film, a virtuoso, innovative display on a very grand subject that announces in its every frame a major new talent. Innocence is greater because of its modesty! Of course there are plenty of modest films- but to quote Churchill, with "plenty to be modest about". This is the work of someone with a clear mastery of cinema (composition, colour, camera movement, lighting, sound, editing, in fact her overall control of mise-en-scene is exceptional etc), but with the maturity not to need to make a brash demonstration. I was delighted she said so herself in interview - "i didn't deliberately set out to create something extremely astonishing"- and that her personality fitted perfectly the image i had of her. She respects her audience, avoids crass manipulation, and has an unusual visual imagination. She has quietly absorbed the influences (Argento, Bresson, Spirit of the Beehive- again i was pleased the names she mentioned were those i'd expected) while making something very personal + intimate, mining psychological depths + effectively capturing a feeling of the childhood we've lost, its natural wonderment, mystery, sensuality, constraints and expectations.

I guess fans of Borowczyk, the Quay bros, Czech surrealism should be pleased but the film's lack of explicit narrative will not appeal to others. You may find visual reminders of Storaro's work on The Conformist (the train journey), and more obviously of Madchen in Uniform, though that has a strong anti-authoritarian message, while Innocence is more enigmatically troubling. It touches on a range of important psychological + social issues- it's gently challenging-, while offering plenty for the cinephile to enthuse over.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 11:03 am
by trevor826
I'm just happy she left it all ambiguous, the one thing I was concerned about was that there would be a definitive explanation.

Did you have the Artificial Eye dvd John?

Cheers Trev.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:32 pm
by Johndav
Yeah that's the one. A very good blind buy too. Yeah the water at the beginning reminded of birth, well pre-birth even, but at the same time gave me a premonition of death, so covers the whole spectrum you could say. That sequence had something of the quality of a Brakhage or handpainted short about it, but already carrying greater depth of meaning. And by the end of the film there were hints in its architectural space of Antonioni, with Bergman's Cries + Whispers, The Shining, Mulholland Dr, Jacques Rivette in between. As i said, her sense of composition, use of deep space, the whole frame, is exceptional but not in a showy way. The camera is often static but when it moves it's impressive. I'm worried about any critics who might get hot under the collar about exploitation or sensuality involving children. Childhood IS sensual.

I too like its slow development + ambiguity, 20 minutes till we have an adult figure and we are mainly restricted to 2 classes + their teachers. The similarity with Suspiria is quite strong, with the malaise and the shadowy headteacher figure, but it doesn't lay it on thick like Argento. It's also very beautiful. And, even more impressive cos she didn't attend one herself, she catches the edgy prison-like claustrophobia of boarding school, the elitism, the urge to escape, alongside a pantheistic exploration of nature and freedom; the freedom of nature, the nature of freedom.

Re: Innocence (2004 - France)

PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 2:22 pm
by Unregistered(d)
It seems to me that these children were in another orphan house before and then put into a coffin so that other orphans assume she died, so that nobody would ask for her return. LIke they do in this house as well. When the girl is gone they do as if she is dead.
Also is shown that the girl Iris in the beginning is not afraid, as if this is not even new for her, all these strange girls. She just blends in easily. She also had a good education behind her because she speaks French, probably she is chosen by the same woman who uses them for her ballet school. Chosen on quality, to be sweet and innocent.
Also in the beginning you can clearly see the coffin be brought to this place, and that in the star figure are holes to let the girl breath, compared to the other coffin of the girl who drowned who is really dead.

And it could mean that that is where their real life begins and where it will end.

By the way It's not a girl who gets a needle in her arm, while seen by Iris. It's one of the older woman who are kept their for working. It just shows that they have contact with the outside world when someone needs medical attention. So if it is all kept a secret could remain in doubt there.
What Iris also sees for the very first time is in the picture, that there is 5 houses. So 5 groups of girls. So while she came to this place in a coffin, 4 other girls did as well.

So 5 special girls are choosen from other orphanage's every year to go to this place and then trained here in ballet for 7 years to eventually be chosen to become a ballet star. From these fully trained girls after a 7 year training only one out of five will become a ballet star. The others will go to a new orphanage, while their old orphanage assumes them dead.
That they are taken away from the other orphanage in a coffin only shows you that that place could be even more mysterious. Those naive orphans learning about death in that way.

The movie is not only about innocence but for me it seems that it also is completely innocent.
It just shows how strict Ballet schools can be, for only girls. Until they are ready for contact with boys they are kept here, to focus completely on Ballet.
They come here at age 5 and go at the age of 12 fully ripe for ballet or a normal orphan life.
This place for girls is amazing, they got everything, a amazing playgroud, they are completely free. No parental guidance, they have a good time. The only reason that it could be that they want to go away, is because they feel they are locked inside these walls. A complete natural feeling.

The beauty about this movie is that its brought in such a misterious way that you might dwell in the depths of ignorance. What is needed to understand this movie is a completly innocent angle.

Look at the viewer. Once so innocent themselves, being a child. Now look what they think of an innocent movie like this.
Let a child watch it, and see the real truth about it.

Our innocence over the years has become our ignorance.