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Innocence

Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic

France| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 115 min.


In a creaky old mansion located in the middle of an idyllic forest encircled by a gigantic stone wall, a group of young girls gathers around a small coffin. The coffin lid opens to reveal the six-year-old Iris (Zoe Auclair), who’s very much alive and a new arrival at this strange boarding school for girls. Bianca, the eldest of the group, introduces Iris to the rules and rituals of the school. Everyone is dressed in white and the only adults here are two female teachers and a few old servants lurking in the shadows. The girls’ education consists solely of ballet and biology, and it seems they are being trained only to be pretty and to breed. They are also taught that ‘obedience is the only path to happiness’. If someone refuses to obey, they disappear in the middle of the night or are doomed to serve the other girls forever.
Loosely based on Frank Wedekind’s short story Mine-Haha (subtitled The Corporal Education of Young Girls), Innocence is a coming-of-age story like no other and marks an auspicious feature debut by director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Gaspar Noe’s long-term partner and script collaborator. Revealing her purpose only gradually, Hadzihalilovic teases the audience with a deepening sense of mystery and suggestions of menace, provoking many questions but providing very few answers. Innocence is a film of enchantment and mystery that draws us into the strange world of young girls who are isolated in an enclosed space that is both a paradise and a prison. There are echoes of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock in Hadzihalilovic’s depiction of an all-female world that’s a breeding ground for fear and anxiety. But this beautifully performed and carefully composed dream of a movie is above all a boldly original work with a distinctly feminine perspective.

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