2016 | Drama | In French, Polish, Dutch and Russian with English subtitles | 115 minutes
The story takes place in Warsaw, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. In one of the clinics, Mathilde, a Red Cross doctor, is treating wounded and sick survivors. She is interrupted by a hysterical Benedictine nun urging Mathilde to drop everything and to follow her back to the convent. Mathilde is shocked to find a holy sister about to give birth. Not only that, but several other sisters are in advanced stages of pregnancy. The Mother Superior (Abbess) tells Mathilde that the sisters were raped by Russian soldiers. Worried that this might tarnish the convent’s reputation, she implores Mathilde to keep this news confidential. Another sister gives birth to a baby. The Abbess has been telling everyone the newborn will be adopted. However, in truth, she has abandoned the baby in front of a crucifix after a baptizing. Mathilde gets orders to leave the clinic for another location. Meanwhile the Master of Novices brings three more babies to the clinics for protection. Mathilde, anguished and frustrated, implores the nuns to open an orphanage and save these newborn babies.
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 94%
- Metacritic Score: 78
Cesar Awards—Nominated: Best Film; Best Director (Anne Fontaine); Best Original Screenplay (Sabrina B. Karine, Alice Vial, Pascal Bonitzer, and Anne Fontaine); Best Cinematography (Caroline Champetier)
Norwegian International Film Festival: Winner, Andreas Award
Provincetown International Film Festival: Winner, Audience Award
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Veteran French director Anne Fontaine approaches a spiritually and emotionally complex real-life slice of history with deftness and understated drama. Fontaine lets the inherent horror of the film’s situation speak for itself, which makes it that much more startling. And she draws finely nuanced performances from her ensemble cast. THE INNOCENTS is a rare film that examines the nature of religious belief in a non-judgmental way; actually, it’s more about strong, brave women protecting each other and doing what they must to survive. The starkness of the setting and the spare, fluid camerawork from cinematographer Caroline Champetier make the drama pop that much more in ways that are both shocking and enlightening.
The film takes care to distinguish the sisters from one another in their responses to a kind of brutality that most couldn’t have imagined. THE INNOCENTS resists the temptation to wallow in sentiment as the nuns give birth, and images of new mothers cuddling their newborns are kept to a minimum. What you feel is their agony, terror and confusion. The most complicated and compelling character is the severe Mother Abbess, who faces the excruciating decision between saving a baby’s life and risking disgrace, or abandoning the infant. Ms. Kulesza’s anguished performance conveys the weight of an almost unbearable choice, which she believes condemns her to eternal damnation.
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