The Innocents (Les Innocentes) (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Anne Fontaine, France/Poland, 2016, 115 mins, in French, Polish and Russian with subtitles

Cast:  Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne

The film is inspired by a true life story that happened in Poland at the end of the Second World War.

When a young novice nun ask French Red Cross doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge) to help one of the sisters in her convent, who is seriously ill, Mathilde is astonished to discover that the nun is pregnant and is in the process of giving birth – a dangerous procedure in her case, which requires Mathilde to perform an emergency Caesarean operation.   It then emerges that several other of the nuns are at various stages of pregnancy – the result of a series of brutal rapes by the invading Soviet soldiers.   Many of the women were virgins and totally ignorant about sex and guided by their faith and their vow of chastity are in total denial about their condition.   Against the instructions of her seniors at the Red Cross and with the help of the cynical but ultimately caring Jewish fellow doctor Samuel (Vincent Macaigne), who is in love with her, Mathilde continues to care for the young nuns, as the film acts out its conflict between blind faith and science laced with humanity.

Also helping Mathilde is Maria (Agata Buzek) a nun who before taking her vows had lived a more worldly life than most of her sisters.  The two women form an unusual and supportive friendship but little of God’s mercy and forgiveness is shown by the Mere Abbesse or Mother Superior (Agata Kulesza), whose main concern is to hide what she sees as the shame of what has happened to her charges.

This is an unusual and moving telling of this unknown piece of history, absorbingly directed by Anne Fontaine.

Review by Carol Allen