A film that needs only one vision to be understood totally can’t be a good film. What is good film? It’s certainly a film that resounds in your mind, in your conscience, for days and days. A film which allows you to discover new nuances as time goes by. New nuances of meaning and new beauties too. A film that you can see and see again without any fatigue.
Complexity, deep meaningfulness, visual splendour are the first qualities of The Innocents. Madeleine Pauliac was born in Southern France in 1912. She was a freedom fighter during Second World War in France, as a doctor, and participated in the Liberation of Paris in 1944. Then, as a lieutenant and chief doctor of Warsaw Hospital, she was one of the heads of the French Red Cross in Poland and Soviet Union in 1945-46. She died accidentally in 1946 near Warsaw.
Her nephew, from her personal diary, had the idea of a film about an important episode of her Polish experience, and Anne Fontaine, who has already directed 14 feature films, wrote the script with French critic, scriptwriter and director Pascal Bonitzer, Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial. In this script, Madeleine Pauliac becomes Mathilde Beaulieu and logically the true events are corrected by the necessities of cinema. But still, the real meaning of this true story is faithfully transmitted.
In Poland, Mathilde is supposed to help only French soldiers and civilians and not to interfere with local people. She is called clandestinely by a desperate young Polish nun who begs her to come to her monastery. Reluctant at first, she accepts and understands that all the nuns have been raped and tortured by Soviet soldiers. Seven of them are ready to give birth to babies that symbolise the outrage, their shame and their suffering. Courageously, taking enormous personal risks, Mathilde, who never believed in any religion, helps them, as a doctor, a freedom fighter and a woman. She even delivers them from their shame – she shows them how innocent they are and how to accept the children of the scandal.
The movie could have been a sombre melodrama, an indecent opera. But if Fontaine succeeds in making it so beautiful because she maintains a very high level of moral consciousness from beginning to end. An atheist, communist, young doctor meets women she shouldn’t have met, speaks with them, suffers with them. She is confronted to a kind of horror she couldn’t imagine, even after years of courageous fighting as a soldier. Beyond the outrage, real mothers and real babies are concerned and this aspect reinforces the power of this extraordinary film.
The particular landscape and locations are filmed with marvelous talent by the prestigious French cinematographer Caroline Champetier. Of course, 1945 Poland is very close to us, as former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, too many African countries experiment with the same kind of outrageous events. Heroic doctors are still risking their own lives and integrity to do their duty. It must be said that Lou de Lâage is exceptional. Already known in France, but never before as a preponderant artist, she shows, as Mathilde, a strength, a delicacy, an energy that deserves all the Awards in the world.
Edited by Amber Wilkinson
© FIPRESCI 2016