Posted: February 26, 2011 by curlyshirley in Film
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In a nutshell: An intriguingly dark fairy tale, which is more Brothers Grimm than Disney.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s debut feature Innocence (an adaptation of the Frank Wedekind novella) is a bittersweet tale of young girls living in an isolated school in France. It is rumoured Wedekind’s tale was inspired by Enid Blyton’s English boardng school series Mallory Towers. But, with new pupils arriving semi naked in coffins and the eerie control displayed by the primary school age schoolgirls in their burningly white uniforms – jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts this isn’t.

In one sense, Innocence offers its pupils freedom and fun, with little supervision and a forest parkland to explore and play in. Yet it is also a prison lacking in human warmth, an eerie, pensive undertone creeping underneath this childish idyll. There is no contact with the outside world and, other than two young female teachers and two elderly servants (also women), barely any contact with adults. There are strict rules, things are “forbidden” with an unknown punishment for transgressors – when one girl, distracted by grief at losing her dreams, climbs the wall in a bid to escape, she is never to be mentioned again. We find out no more than that. Innocence is rife with secrets, dank, underground tunnels, and unexplained rituals. Each happy, playful scene is underpinned with a feeling of dread, similar to the subtle and impending doom of a good horror film – and which is all the more unsettling for being packaged up within a quiet, apple pie sweet setting.

Visually, Innocence is stunning. The girls’ technicolour ribbons and their austere white uniforms against the natural background of the forest is like a series of beautiful paintings. Colours are strong and bright while the natural lighting, be it shards of sunlight streaming through the aged trees or the glow of lamps blinking on in the shadowy night time forest, create scenes so endearing you might easily see them on a tin of shortbread.

However, while it is doubtless an aesthetically beautiful piece, as a film Innocence, at times, suffers from trying just a little too hard. Its child actors give very natural performances yet  there is a feeling that, rather than encouraging the actors to chatter on as children might, dialogue is, at times, cut back to retain that odd, dreamlike tone. Similarly, the symbolic – and repeated – scenes of bubbling water go on just a little long, hammering the point home and turning the pace from leisurely to too slow.

Similarly, for those who prefer the usual beginning, middle and end story arc, all the ends neatly tied up, be warned that Innocence lacks a  central narrative, instead viewers get a chance to dip their toes into a haunting, surreal world. What is this place? Why are the girls there? Where do the older pupils go? Questions hang in the air; all we are offered is suggestions and yet more mysteries, building suspense until it is so taut it may well snap – only to end with an equally odd sense of childish happiness and hope.

An evocative, original tale which at times intrigues, at times frustrates, Innocence may not appeal to the action junkies out there, but is well worth watching if you are looking for a change from the usual run of the mill.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley


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