Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Innocents (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Innocents

Though "The Innocents" features a convent in crisis under the blight of snow, giant stone crucifixes, shadowy recesses and a stern Mother Superior, this new film by Anne Fontaine is no added chapter from the Gothic pen of Dan Brown, but rather a tense and gripping drama about a group of nuns in post-war 1945 Poland.

Shocking, visceral and unapologetically direct, the film, based on a true events, is entrancing from start to finish. Mathilde (Lou de Laage) a Red Cross doctor is summoned by a convent member to attend to an epidemic of ailing nuns in dire physical and mental pain.

Mathilde wants to help but she is up against the resolute and taciturn Superior (Agata Kuleza). The nuns have PTSD and invariably feel it is a sin to be touched or to be unclothed during examination. The members try their utmost to ignore the physics of their own bodies, a few of them to their peril.

Though a bit of the film has instances of clinical gore, it is no pulp drama. This is a sociological study of what happens to a group of nuns under very graphic and upsetting circumstances. Though a few of the episodes are unflinching, each frame of this film is a painting to rival Vermeer or Bruegel. Lone nuns resembling anguished birds trudge along the icy woods, their habits indistinguishable from the falling snow.

This is an immersive story of great darkness where people are often vile and unrepentantly cruel but there are also passages of beauty and humor. In one scene, an elder nun coos of over a cherubic and dimpled infant, his body swadled in white cloth in much the same style as the observing nun. At one point, we even glimpse a festival as  every sister is drunk with happiness.

By the last third of the film however, the bouyant  chants of the nunnery seem to signal claustrophobia as the Superior grows more and more unreachable and opaque. The doctor Mathilde, who resembles a hypnotic Gala in a Salvador Dali painting is  overwhelmed by the sheer number of women in need of immediate help.

Like the film "Of Gods and Men" this is a cool and clinical film of Catholic life that places you in the position of an active observer. Existence in this convent is often silent and solemn, bonded with authority and iron rule. But in one moment as in a Hitchcock film, a nun's singsong warble transmutes into a bloodcurdling scream.

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