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Paul Cox's "Innocence" is a beautiful, poignant gem that deserves your
attention. It is a film that manages to be both realistic and
completely uncynical at the same time(an unusual achievement these
The story concerns two people who were lovers as teenagers, separated, and meet again fifty years later. Upon meeting again they realize that they're still in love. It probably sounds sickeningly corny but it doesn't play that way. Cox details how the reigniting of their affair affects the people around them(friends, his daughter, her son and husband)and allows time for exquisitely intelligent conversations, my favorite of which takes place between the male protagonist(Charles Tingwell)and a priest concerning the reality of God.
"Innocence" is luminous.Seek it out.
This film took my breath away. It's been many months, perhaps years, since
I last felt so moved by a feature film.
Paul Cox has certainly outdone himself with this one. There were times when I was reminded of `A Woman's Tale', his offering from around ten years ago, particularly during the discussions about life, death and love. In particular, his theme about death being a part of life continues in this feature.
The performances of Tingwell, Blake and Norris are outstanding, and the scenes of intimacy are tasteful and beautiful. The Australian scenes were filmed in Adelaide, and this city scrubs up well and does the story justice.
Cox makes ample use of his usual visual signatures - faces through glass doors, reflections in water, wind chimes, caged birds, people talking from the other side of trees in autumnal glory. However, for me, the scene in the church when Andreas plays `Jerusalem' on the pipe organ, managed to gather together the visual with the aural, and deliver a hefty dose of the emotional as well.
An astonishing film, and the most believable love story I have ever seen on the big screen.
As a woman of 'a certain age' I speak from experience. The sentimentality seemed to me to be excessive. I found the story to be plausible, and the cast superb; it was in the execution that Paul Cox revealed an idealistic approach to men and women in love (at any age). I swear I aged an entire year during this 90-minute experience. I found myself taking deep breaths, wanting to say "Move it along, Paul, give up the ponderosity, let's see the amazing vitality that a love affair injects into formerly perfunctory lives. (That, unfortunately, happened in only one scene ... at the home of friends.) The flashbacks to the young lovers seemed repetitious because there was no progression, no development of the characters Again, I wanted to say, "We get it, Paul, we get it, they were in love--and no different from any couple in love." The ending could have been so much more interesting if Mr. Cox had not, indeed, taken the easy way out. However, I salute the effort to depict us oldsters as something other than grumpy grannies/gramps or eccentric fools.
" They've (the audience) been desensitized -- they've been Pulp
Fiction-ized. I don't condemn that, but we cannot live without love, we
cannot live like this. At the end of this film, I wanted to say that love is
the only thing that matters, and those who think that is naïve are wrong."
-- Paul Cox.
In Innocence, a sweet film by Australian director, Paul Cox, a couple approaching seventy rekindle a love affair that started almost fifty years ago. Andreas (Charles "Bud" Tingwell), a widowed organist and music teacher, decides to write to Claire (Julia Blake), the woman he was in love with in Belgium in his youth. Claire has been putting up with a joyless marriage for the last twenty years with her husband John (Terry Norris) and agrees to meet Andreas to catch up on things. I guess you know where this is going. That's right, the two pick up right where they left off. John is hurt by his wife's infidelity and comes off as obtuse, even though it is evident that Claire has never taken any responsibility for the quality of their relationship.
It is nice to see that at least one director realizes that people over the age of thirty can actually experience physical sensation; however, will someone please tell Mr. Cox that there is more to growing old than talking about memories and anticipating death. Mr. Cox is an honest filmmaker who has his heart in the right place and no doubt wishes to restore some humanity to the cinema. I applaud him for that. Unfortunately, for me, this work comes across as strained and somewhat precious. It plays like a seventy-something TV movie special with all the pretensions of a serious art film. Cox uses dream sequences, flashbacks, jump cuts, and poetic music as if he was operating from a manual about how to make a serious art film.
Most of the lovemaking is suggested and is always in good taste but even this is a problem. If your point is that older people are still capable of romantic love, then don't be afraid to show it. The theme of the renewal of love after many years can be moving and poetic as in the magnificent novel of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, "Love in the Time of Cholera". While the novel had fully-realized characters, here I found the lovers so ordinary and uninteresting that I had difficulty making any emotional connection with them. Tingwell speaks his lines in a flat monotone and does not exude much charisma.
I think the biggest problem I had was the film's overreaching for effect. Repetitious flashbacks of the young lovers and ersatz profundity add up for me to an unsatisfying experience. That the actors perform as well as they do under the circumstances is a tribute to their skill and professionalism. Over and over, the characters are asked to recite endless cliches that sound like they come from "Touched by an Angel". For example: "Each phase of life has its own kind of love", and "If God were called Beauty or Love, I would believe in Him", and "What really matters is love, everything else is rubbish", and "She wants to be needed, that's the way women are", and "Love becomes more real the closer it comes to death", and "I'm suffering but you don't care".
All that is missing is Ryan O' Neal saying that love means never having to say you're too old. At the end Claire says to Andreas, "Let's go somewhere where we can shed a few tears together". On this last point, I would join them. For a film that is full of sincerity but becomes lost in its own unctuous self-importance, perhaps a few tears might be in order.
"Innocence" is uncompromising in its effort to explore a plausible human drama, refusing to offer simple or gratifying solutions. The conclusion of the film might seem a cop-out, but it is moving and credible (and had been dramatically prepared in earlier dialogue), and even the final voiceover avoids pat answers. The photography is particularly beautiful and the direction reminded me (this might seem farfetched) of Carl Theodor Dreyer--the close attention to facial expressions and the careful placement of the characters within meaningful environments especially evoke that master's style. This is a film that probably could not be shown successfully in any multiplex in the US, but if you can find it at an independent theater (or on video sometime) be sure to see it. I was particularly pleased to note that at least half the audience with whom I saw it at our local independent theater was under 30,and they gave every evidence of valuing it as much as the more senior members, though perhaps for other reasons. This is a great film.
Paul Cox's Innocence is an unconventional, often very poignant love story
about an old man named Andreas (Charles Tingwell) who writes to his first
love Claire (a simple yet complex Julia Blake) and the two meet again.
Claire has had a husband John (Terry Norris) for a number of decades now,
and yet by some powerful if inexplicable force they fall in love once again
as they did when they were 16. However this affair comes as a shock to
John, but the story unfolds as if it weren't trying to reach any total,
formulaic conclusion; which is just one of the films many strong
The other strong points come from the terrific performances by Tingwell, Norris and especially Blake who act they're roles with a realism and heart you don't see often in love stories. And of course, Cox delivers fine direction and an even finer script to the mix. Only 2 flaws get in the way- things could've been explained a little better here and they're when it came to some of the reasoning and emotion, plus the ending was a downer. Otherwise, it's a quite worthwhile picture, especially for fans of Cox, or for anybody sick of seeing films up on the marqui with names like Glitter and Soul Survivors. Grade: Between A & A-
You expect thought-provoking films from Paul Cox, the director of Man
of Flowers (1983), My First Wife (1984) and other films that take an
uncompromising or quirky view of life. This film is another in that
Who hasn't thought about a first love and wondered? Perhaps wondered whether the break, when it came, was the right move? Or wondered why it broke off? Or wondered about a countless number of things that might or might not have happened?
Using that idea as the starting point, Cox constructed an intricate visual narrative about what could happen should an aging man a widower choose to contact the woman he first loved some forty-five years earlier, with the view of finding out how her life has turned out.
A perfectly innocent idea, one could think. Except that, when contacted, the man discovers that the woman is still married. Undeterred, he also realizes he is still as passionate now or more so and sets out to rekindle the flame of their youth. Equally she responds, at first tentatively, but soon with reckless abandon.
And so begins the re-awakening of a first love that both parties thought had withered away...but not entirely forgotten by either. And so, the fundamental question that Cox asks his players to portray, however, is this: just what sort of love is it now, after forty plus years? Is it still true love? Is it simply lust? Is it a mix? More importantly, what is love, after all?
With such a topic, this could have been reduced to a banal pot-boiler, a weepy soap, or grand melodrama in the hands of less experienced writer/directors. It's none of those: instead, it's a mature enquiry into the true nature of married love versus romance. Affairs, of course, have been a staple of Hollywood and others, I guess, in such well-remembered films as An Affair To Remember 1959), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1955), Brief Encounter (1944) and many others.
None of that saccharine sentimentality forms any part of this narrative. Instead, it's so down to earth, I began to wonder whether Australia has a peculiar kind of love: different cultures handle this topic differently, for sure, but only in Australia, I think, would a woman leave her lover's bed, go home, and then start cooking dinner for her aggrieved husband. Are Aussies that stolid, that practical, or that uncaring? Even as an Australian, I'm not sure...
There's very little in the manner of hysterical lamentations or outraged ranting; and only the husband shows brief anger towards his grown son, the doctor who tries to counsel his mother and father to no avail, of course. What there's plenty of, however, is confusion, as each character tries to adjust to a couple in their mid-sixties having an open affair. So, as you might expect, there are moments of light comedy, wistful reminiscences, and, of course, rolling around in bed, locked together but very tastefully done.
But is it all realistic, and truly representative, given the setting, the culture, and their age? Well, I'm sure most of us have seen true-life results of affairs: most are not pretty; some are down and dirty; a few are murderous. In contrast, this affair is quiet, contained and very civilized.
But, in Australia, I've never seen oldies like myself rolling around on a riverside grass verge, or kissing passionately on a suburban train station; it could happen, however, I'll grant you. However, most older Aussies of the type portrayed - still have a remnant of that Celtic reserve brought over when the colony started in 1788; and it hangs on. Perhaps, then , Cox is simply holding up the idea that such an affair is possible, even between people who are so reserved, so settled and in the twilight of their diminishing years; and especially in Australia. In truth, I'd like to see that, and this story is as good as it gets, perhaps.
As the lover-come-back wannabe, Bud Tingwell, as Andreas, gives a great understated portrayal of a man who's found a new lease on life but, ironically, too late; Julia Blake, as Claire, is almost unbelievably stunning; Terry Norris, as John, the confused husband, is valiant in his efforts to win his wife back. The standout albeit brief performance, however, comes from Marta Dusseldorp, as Monique, Andreas's daughter whose care and concern for her aging father is achingly real.
My real criticism is with the script: at times, I was a bit uncomfortable with the lack of expletives you would expect to hear from people who are greatly upset emotionally, and all with diction that remains so perfectly enunciated, and with very little idiomatic or slang expressions. Not quite what you'd hear from Aussies in reality, I think, even those well educated and still religious, as they all apparently are. I doubt that even one of them said 'bloody'. Perhaps that was intentional by Cox, though, to garner a wider international audience?
Some may be disappointed in the ending as being too contrived, being almost a parody of an ecstatic whirling Dervish. My only thought is that there are so many endings that could happen. This was just one that had to happen.
Those aspects apart, it's still a fine story and film, and one that I'd recommend.
If you haven't seen Paul Cox's film, 'A Woman's Tale'...see it. It's one of
the best films ever made. Pure and simple.
Innocence is only a step behind that. Shows how our emotions never change, even in old age...the love, the passion, the jealousy, it's all there. Breaks many stereotypes about older people by showing them to be full of the same reactions we all are. Not just calm and quiet and 'respectful'...but human and full of a wide range of feelings.
Also see: 'Bliss' and 'Lantana' by the Australian Director Ray Lawrence if you want to know how good Australian films can be.
Writer, director Paul Cox's `Innocence' may be about senior-citizen love,
but it really is about how we must be ready when love arrives or when it
returns, no matter at what age. As a cautionary tale and a lyric expression
of love's power, few current movies can match this film's quiet
At the same time, `Innocence' has enough aphorisms and platitudes about love and life to make it qualify for the `I am Sam/Majestic' sugar trophy. Heroine Claire's leaden comment, `Too much love is as bad as no love at all,' is one of the winners.
But then when she says to her elderly friend before their lovemaking, "If we're going to do this--let's do it like grownups. First, close the curtains. Then, close your eyes," I have to admit it made me consider that bedroom antics at any age are pretty goofy in the cold light of maturity. In this way, Cox has caught the humanity that crosses all age lines and doesn't need the excessive silent intercutting of numerous romantic reveries from the protagonists' youth.
If you see `Innocence,' you may never have to see another love story. The romance between these two almost 70 year olds is fraught with uncertainty, deception, longing, passion, and regret. It is honest about the choices we make and their consequences. It is hopeful about our ability to recoup our losses and begin again, even at life's end.
So, like our own lives and loves, the film is alternately sublime and ridiculous. View it if only to witness on film the first and last time you will see septuagenarians making love. Hey, they look just as silly as the rest of us.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you believe in the power of drama and you are a filmmaker, you have two challenges: to find an engaging drama and to devise a cinematic expression. Cox solves the first handily: this notion of death forcing the imagination behind love is powerful, unsettling and rarely explored. The players do a capable enough job getting attuned to the dramatic possibilities.
But in finding the cinematic expression, Cox has some difficulties. In fact, for me, this was much better played as sound only. I often run this test, or the reverse: images only.
The cinematic solution is to show the current love in terms of recalled images. Some of those are lovely: the hazy romance of the engaging, photogenic Kirstien Van Pellicom. Some are the more nightmarish visions of the wife in the grave. The bridge between this imaginative film-world and the `real' world is Andreas watching the disinterment of his wife: a highly stylized Yorick-derived episode. One can see how much effort was put into solving this problem. But for me, it all rests on an assumption that doesn't work.
One of the stressed points is that love matures, that the tendernesses become deeper, that the appreciation of shared needs is more attuned to the pattern of life. But all the `enriching' visuals we get are of the young couple: grappling in lust. We are meant to gloss over the dissonance between the callow and mature, to appreciate as explanation what the explanation tells us is not so. The final problem comes in the scene at the church. The buildup to that point is in he visual imagination. Why then is the sensory overload purely auditory? Why, if all this effort went into convincing us that visual histories have power, why then not have the fatal saturation be one that is of the visual world? I am thinking of `Wings of the Dove.'
Cox is too knowledgeable to have not seen the problem, which is a matter of us not having (after 75 years!) an accessible enough vocabulary of visual sense to draw upon. Tarkovsky has one, but it is not available to the larger audience Cox seeks. So he relies instead on the natural tendency of audiences to merge all things romantic into one tarball in the memory. Its harmful stuff, feeding that urge. But if you agree to it, rosey images of Kirstien isn't bad material to shove in there.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
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