The Mystery of Innocence By Gorazd Trusnovec
End credits are rolling. A coffin is moved through a dark cavern. The coffin lid opens, revealing a six-year old girl. She is the newest student in a mysterious school for prepubescent girls, surrounded by vast forests and a lake, a secluded school with no boys and no adults, and where the oldest girl disappears from this seemingly idyllic place every evening at nine.
Based on symbolist novella Mine-Haha by Frank Wedekind, the story unravels in a very slow pace, but the director and scriptwriter Lucile Hadzihalilovic already shows in her first full-length feature to be a brave, cultivated, self-confident and fully developed filmmaker.
Innocence is a powerful experience, to say the least. An extraordinary film which explores the fear and the attraction of the unknown as well as rules and rituals of the society, the relation between man, nature, ideals and symbols, and human relationships developing in a closed community. How should we, as adults, view the images of innocence, what is the meaning of growing up, what does losing the innocence bring and what does it take away? How important is awareness of sexuality and violence in a human development? Lucile Hadzihalilovic shows that these themes are universal and timeless and employs them both with anxiety and uneasiness and mystical lyricism.
Is it all a metaphor, or better, is it all an allegory? Does it have a definite meaning at all? Most likely, yes, but we may as well follow the author’s advice and “not try to explain everything, just delve into the cinematic experience.” Feelings and intuition may be as important for the ‘understanding’ of the film as cultural and literary references. Although it really is quite original, with its stunningly dark visual compositions and sound design, the film didn’t came out of nowhere, and there are some cinematic references that could be spotted. The film is dedicated to her husband Gaspar Noë after all, and much of the eerie atmosphere is created by the meticulously dark cinematography of Benoit Debie ( Irreversible ). Some parts of the work by Peter Weir and David Lynch could be mentioned in the same context, too. But, again, Innocence is a powerful, autonomous and thought-provoking film that works on its own.
And last but not least, one feels the need to point out the rare occasion when the film, awarded for its outstanding quality by FIPRESCI jury, also got to be the favourite of the festival audiences in Istanbul.