Monday, June 27, 2016

The movie of the year? Anne Fontaine's amazing THE INNOCENTS might very well be it.

Feminist in a whole new way, Anne Fontaine's latest triumph, THE INNOCENTS, is also her finest, most important and most encompassing movie so far, not least because it takes that feminism, for which this movie-maker has long been noted (in my book, anyway) so far beyond the usual or typical that it expands into a grand and embracing humanism.

Said to be based on real events, the movie will make clear to any thinking person who knows history and the aftermath of World War II, that what happened at the convent here in Poland probably happened at many other convents around the world -- during wartime and afterward. But so horrifying are these events that "civilized" folk like us would prefer not to imagine such things.

One of the great strengths of Ms Fontaine (shown at left) as a director and often adaptor is that -- from Dry Cleaning through Nathalie...The Girl from Monaco to Adore -- whether she is working in comic or dramatic mode (sometime both simultaneously), she insists on putting us in touch with feelings and actions we'd prefer to keep buried. (Sometimes she does this with a light comic touch, as in last year's delightful Gemma Bovery.)

With The Innocents (post-viewing, you may want to consider to whom that title refers), Fontaine is working in firmly dramatic mode. There's little humor here. What surfaces is provided by an ironic, been-through-hell-and-back doctor (very well played by Vincent Macaigne, below, left, of 2 Autumns 3 Winters) who works with our heroine (the lovely Lou de Laâge, below, right, of L'Attesa and Breathe) for the French Red Cross in post-war Poland.

Initially, once we learn what has happened at the convent, the movie seems to be mostly about rape and its awful consequences. Fontaine, her co-writers and her cast bring this home with a ferocity and reality that is striking. Yet we have not seen the original horror but instead experience it via the condition of the nuns, as we meet and grow to know them.

And then the filmmaker serves up a double whammy, as our heroine experiences her own introduction into the condition of these nuns. And we're with her during every step of this, the movie's single violent scene.

But then, slowly, The Innocents turns its attention to the idea and experience of faith -- how it works and what it can or can't accomplish. I have no idea whether Ms Fontaine is a person of faith (I would guess she is not, as I am not) but she certainly gives faith its due here. She is able to see events and personalities from angles that allow us viewers to enter the lives and minds of these nuns, each of whom is differentiated surprisingly well, so that we understand and feel their viewpoints.

Soon, however, Fontaine's film becomes less about rape or faith and more about life (and death) and parenting and what all this might mean to a group of nuns -- of whom, by now, we have grown hugely fond and protective -- just as has the character played by Ms de Laâge.

Granted, this is one humdinger of a tale to begin with, but I can't credit too highly the manner in which Fontaine has told it so that we encounter viewpoints that conflict enormously and yet we are made to fully understand and appreciate them all. As my spouse said, while the end credits rolled, "What a tolerant movie this is!" Indeed. For us to understand the shocking actions of certain characters here, we must enter into ideas quite foreign to what we would ordinarily encounter.

The filmmaker's great accomplishment is that she helps us do this with no lecturing or hectoring, simply by allowing us entry to as many viewpoints as necessary to make the leap. In the remarkably varied and equally talented cast, those with the most screen time are two Agatas: Agata Buzek (above), who plays the nun who initially translates and then becomes the most helpful to our heroine, and Agata Kulesza (below), as the convent's Abbess, whom foreign film fans will remember as the title character's helpful but depressed aunt in the Oscar-winning Ida of two years back.

Dramatically, Fontaine's film is aces all the way. From the initial scenes that are a mystery (and clearly an urgent one) to a finale that, in terms of how this movie began, is rather like moving from hell to heaven, the filmmaker keeps us glued both intellectually and emotionally. And the feel-good we experience at the end of this film seems utterly "earned," bringing us back to the movie's opening scenes in a manner most surprising and genuine. If a better film than The Innocents hits theaters this year, I'll be surprised -- but grateful. (Below is the lovely Katarzyna Dabrowska, as one of the nuns.)

From Music Box Films and running just under two hours, the movie opens this Friday, July 1, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at The Landmark. In South Florida, look for it on July 8 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Miami, and The Classic Gateway, Fort Lauderdale. On July 15 it hits The Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood in Boca Raton, and in Delray and Lake Worth at the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth. Over the weeks and months to come, The Innocents will open in across the nation in some 60 cities and theaters. Click here and then click on THEATERS on the task bar midway down to view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed.

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