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The final title, "for Gaspar" (Noe, director of IRREVERSIBLE), hints at
the pedigree of the makers of this quite fascinating study of young
girls on the cusp of adolescence.
Benoit Debie, the cinematographer of IRREVERSIBLE, shot the film.
Six year old Iris (Zoe Auclair) arrives at her new country school in a coffin. She becomes infatuated with twelve-year-old Bianca (Berangare Haubruge) who disappears each evening and returns in the morning. The girls spend most of their days studying ballet and preparing for an important exam.
The school is like a keep. The girls are encouraged to find happiness in obedience. Parents never visit. The world beyond its tall hedges exists like something within a dream.
Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic imbues every aspect of the film with a dreamy, meditative veneer. Shots of the pre-teen nymphs dancing, cartwheeling and splashing about in shallow water recall the grainy erotic imagery of David Hamilton's early feature films -- in particular, LAURA and BILITIS. The ballet sequences and striking compositions of solitary female figures in towering external landscapes owe a small debt to Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA and, to a lesser extent, his PHENOMENA. But this is not a deliberate softcore meditation on childhood sexuality. It is a metaphorical examination of how innocence is ruptured by its own curiosity.
The camera angles stress the importance and prominence of legs to a fetishistic degree. This focus is an organic extension of the girls' ballet training; a darker purpose for legs is indicated later in a chilling line of dialogue. Debie's cinematography emphasizes light and shade and is never pretty for its own sake.
The forest filled with lamps has a deliciously surreal, fairytale quality. The sequences where the girls dance for a faceless audience reminded me of one of MULHOLLAND DRIVE's most haunting sequences. The film's sound design also echoes the internal voids of the Lynchian world.
The film is not big on explanations and is a touch too slow at times, but it presents a thoroughly realized universe that is a stark metaphor for life's discoveries and disappointments. The performances possess perfect pitch and the tone remains both haunting and consistent.
What exactly is the film about? The girls may be in a purgatory of sorts, a resting place between life and death. Perhaps not. Perhaps they are in a holding pattern between childhood (innocence) and adulthood (a state requiring some loss of innocence), and when they manage to escape (succumbing to their pre-adolescent curiosity), they have forfeited their place in childhood forever. But only perhaps.
Innocence is an extraordinary film that explores its theme with such
determined rigor one cannot help but be compelled and shocked by every
moment. Innocence explores the period in girls' lives before they lose
their Innocence and start adulthood. The mysterious school to which we
are introduced through Tarkovskyesque images of flowing water becomes a
dark and at times haunting manifestation of both the young girls'
enforced Innocence as well as the setting for the film's mystery
narrative in which we find ourselves desperate to see through the
schools wooded grounds to some kind of epiphany.
Part of the success of Innocence is that it is able to confuse the viewer and forces the audience to confront their own ideas of Innocence and how we as adults should view images of Innocence. Images of the young girls at play should be easier to watch but this is an adult film with a predominately adult audience and the darkness of the films own geography plays with ones ideas of Innocence and the loss of it.
Extraordinary images, extraordinary performances, a great film.
There can't be many films that occupy your mind for many days
afterwards, make you read the book they are based on, and then watch
"Innocence" is one of those films and it is both beautiful and intriguing at the same time. It is based on a book by Frank Wedekind called "Mine-Haha or the corporeal education of girls", the only published fragment of his unfinished novel "Hildalla". It was first published in 1901 and although beautifully written it has much darker undertones than the film with references to a body cult of youth and natural beauty which would later become exploited by Nazi culture.
The film is very much a metaphor for a childhood world which is in many ways separate but also protected from that of adults. It plays in an isolated Girls School their children enter at the time when they start to make their own independent experiences of the world around them and ends with the onset of puberty and attainment of menarche, both symbolising the emotional and physical end of childhood. The cinematography is beautiful and reminded me in many ways of Tarkovsky with its symbolism and haunting images. However, the story can seem a little simplistic and linear times and often appears to demand more depth from the young child actors than they could possibly deliver.
Nevertheless this is a very interesting and thought-provoking film and well worth watching. The French dialogue often has a musical quality and as long as you're prepared to watch this in a calm and unhurried state of mind this is very rewarding and unusual cinematic experience.
Amazing. Not for all tastes, to be sure, but infinitely intriguing and accomplished. Great movie. After all the previous not totally successful, or barely watchable or downright awful fantasy movies that have come out of France in the last five years or so, French cinema turns out to be capable of producing an intelligent, beautiful, original work of art with its roots in the fantasy field which is both a treat to the eye and intelligence, and a graphically arresting piece of movie making. The film, dealing with strange ongoings at a remote boarding school for young girls in a mystery-ridden forest somewhere, is incredibly catching, full of hypnotic images. It is indeed closer to the spirit of silent movies, in particular the German school of Fritz Lang, Murnau, Pabst, etc, than to most modern movies. But so brilliant and respectful in its approach that it soon makes you forget its origins. The are dreamlike visions by the dozen in Innocence, superior or equal to Lynch's best films, to Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, or to Jane Campion's cinema in its finer moments, for instance. A painter in terms of framing and composition, the director is always lifting the material up into poetry country. See it and you will not be left untouched. Few films ever reach that kind of weirdness and movie magic. It has no comparison. Really.
Reading a lot of the interesting comments people have made about this film, it's obvious most didn't understand it.I admit this includes me. I enjoy an original idea for a movie, one that makes you think, but if it is too obscure surely that defeats the object? A lot of the comments mention paedophiles, an overused word that's fashionable at the moment.I'm a bloke but ye Gods, these were tiny little girls and not sexual. Someone mentioned the bathing and said they were uncomfortable with it. Nobody was nude! If a scene such as this makes a person less than happy, I suggest it says a lot about that person's mind. David Hamilton's 'Bilitis' has a scene where a group of schoolgirls strip off and go gamboling in the sea, that is certainly done, (in my view) to titillate. Innocence isn't at all like that. Europeans such as the French and Germans have, it seems to me, a lot healthier attitude to sex than either the Brits' or the US who tend to look for an ulterior motive in anything. Having said that- There is an interview with director Lucile Hadzihalilovic on the DVD, in it she mentions words to describe the movie, such as paradise, prison, nature, appealing and interesting.She says the film is essentially sensual and a claustrophobic universe. Also says that there is no violence and nothing offensive in it. It interested me to hear her say that women would identify with it easier than men, as their own view of young girls will be evoked. For some that may be problematic, for others, not at all. Read in that what you will chaps. There are few sights more pleasurable than a happy female, (of any age.) I remember an old saying, - 'Little girls, like butterflies, need no excuse.'
If you've ever read the work of German symbolist writer Frank Wedekind
then you may already have an idea about how difficult a text first
feature writer-director Lucile Hadzihalilovic chose to adapt and
execute. But execute she does for a good portion of the film until the
rather obvious over-the-top conclusion that fails to answer many of the
questions raised earlier.
That said, there is much to enjoy this film mainly due to its excellent cinemascope photography and the whole idea of an idyllic place where prepubescent girls are trained to be ballet dancers in order to enter the world as proper teenage women.
Since this is a symbolist writing, one can also entertain thoughts of purgatory (the characters are brought into being via a coffin), isolated same-sex societies (with one old man that is never explained), or some of the themes M. Night Shymalan explored in "The Village" with fear being used to keep a small population under control.
In any case, this film will provoke much discussion afterwards so bring your most knowledgeable cinema pals and dig in. Young girls in white outfits giggling and playing for two hours may not be everyone's simplification of the world at large, but in some ways it does sum up the dangers of segregated societies.
Not bad for a first film with extremely difficult material. A remarkable debut nonetheless.
Very intellectually challenging, beautifully shot movie not only of
girlhood and becoming woman but of life in general as well. A classic -
that can already be seen. A classic in the way very few movies are.
Operates with metaphors and allegories.
If one likes to read cultural critique and critique of society and labour, one probably loves this movie. It's no "popcorn and giggling" movie. I'd recommend serious, curious attitude towards it. Trying to understand it as one understands poetry.
However, I would't call it a "difficult" movie. Everyone has been a child. Everyone has been forced to live in a society with some features one is not so ready to live with.
Offbeat? This film is so far removed from offbeat, that previous films
described as offbeat are marching in military step unison. Innocence is
a gorgeous composition of thought, sound and beauty which is utterly
compelling to watch but challenges the viewing audience to a hard
fought internal battle, raising questions within the viewer, in a
William Blake-ish "Songs Of Innocence, Songs Of Experience" manner.
Undoubtedly the cinematography is some of the most striking that has been put to film certainly this side of the millennium, as Hadzihalilovic manages to compose wonderful shots of serene beauty within a hidden sense of malice and darkness. His symbolic use of colours is highly key to the understanding of the events, themes and emotions and aids the viewer immensely in being able to 'try' (and I emphasis the word) and dissect the layers of thought provoking connotations on the nature of innocence.
It's not always the most comfortable film to be viewing, as certain IMDb reviewers would hasten to claim it has "pedophilic tendencies", but I fear they're somewhat missing the point of the entire film; yes it is often at times difficult to view, but there is a purpose. William Blakes collection of poems on innocence and experience charts the replacing of the former with the latter. He shows us how innocence cannot be appreciated til you are experienced, but how experience completely taints any notion of innocence, and the same is with this precise film. These unsettling moments for us are only so because of the experience which we possess and have learnt throughout our existence, to the girls they don't see the same sins, pitfalls and traps we do, to them they are merely acting on instinct, as children do, in an innocent, cares- of the world-free way.
Thus the film charts the fall of innocence from the elder girls at the hauntingly constructed boarding school, and the continuing of the cycle through metamorphic symbolism, the circle of young life. Although it does make me question the use of the word "film". If I had but one criticism of the film, for all its mesmerising viewing and original premise it comes across more as a case study in innocence rather than a fully fledged story. While undeniably engaging and engrossing it lacks a certain spark, becoming more concerned with the ideas than the progression of any one story, to the extent where the ideas will be ringing in your head for days afterwards, but lacking a sense of resolution. Innocence would be an impressive debut solely on the basis of bravery alone for tackling such a notion, and so effectively, but the hallmarking of this 'case study' comes in the directors striking use of colours, symbolism and cinematography which I personally believe to have been unsurpassed in the films I've seen of recent years. Although you have been warned, the film is an intense experience which will not set well with everyone, but given that you have now been warned, so it's not as if you can claim you were innocent of that.
We watched this film during my Film History and Theory class this past
Thursday and aside from shoddy presentation (the projector was
absolutely horrible and displayed the film too dark), I have to say
that I enjoyed this quite a bit. At first, I almost dismissed it as
artsy, pretentious French cinema due to the very slow pace and
methodical direction but it had this eerie quality to it that kept my
eyes glued to the screen, anticipating what was yet to come. The story
is told in a very abstract way and the story is never really laid out
for you in a conventional manner. In truth, it is a very simple tale
but told in an imaginative way. There was great imagery and the use of
sound to create a mysterious environment was very well done. At times
it reminded me of the films of David Lynch, (especially Lost Highway
and Mulholland Dr.) and Gaspar Noe (Irreversible), which is probably
why I enjoyed it so much. The acting by the principals is very good,
considering that they consisted mainly of very young girls. The
director managed to capture natural performances from all of them and
having worked with children on films in the past, I have to applaud her
efforts on this end as I know how difficult it can be to get them to
give you the results you're looking for. From a negative stance, the
film runs just a bit too long and the pacing could've been trimmed a
little to make it run a bit faster and leaner. There were stretches
where the film felt like it was never going to end. In the end, I would
definitely recommend this to those who appreciate art-house cinema as
this caters directly to them. This was an impressive debut for Ms.
Hadzihalilovic and I am definitely curious to see what she comes up
RATING: ***1/2 out of *****.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before jumping into the story itself, I have to say I was blown away by
the imagery and sound of this movie. The scenarios are, at the same
time, breathtakingly beautiful and deeply dark, to a point of making
you uncomfortable. The old, rusty lamps that mark the ways trough the
woods are an important detail in the creation of the dark ambiance. The
soundtrack is in no way inferior, and as others said, strongly inspired
by David Lynch work.
All this translates into one of the main points of this movie, which is showing on the big screen the contradictions of kids lives at that age. The girls are told to be happy, and they spend a lot of time playing outside, on the woods and the lake. On the other hand, they are subject to a demanding education (which is depicted in the movie as ballet lessons), which is many times scary, dull, and somewhat pointless.
One of the interesting lines of the story if the fact that the only purpose of being in the school seems to be getting out of there. There is no clear goal, and girls seem to don't deeply understand why are they there (Iris asks several times if and when can she leave and there's never a clear answer to her question). At a point, one of the young girls asks an older one if the reason for one of the teachers having a physical problem on her legs is the result of punishment for trying to leave the school. I love this dialog, because it shows two different characteristics of the young kids: the uncertainty related to why they must be there and when will they be able to leave, and the weird and somewhat surreal stories and fears the young minds are able to create.
The movie also shows us that all this is scary enough to the point that some kids can't handle it. There are two very sad situations in the story. The first is when the lonely, scared and violent girl shows us she's so afraid of the challenges she faces that she ends up getting out of the school the only way she can: by drowning herself on the lake. I believe this tries to map the few kids we all knew in our schools that started being subject of bad influences, having a violent behavior, taking drugs, and tearing their life apart to a point of no return.
The second situation is the girl that fails to be chosen. First of all, it's never really clear what it means to be chosen. What seems obvious is that, whatever it means, it's not something that is necessarily or entirely good. My interpretation is being chosen means going to a more demanding school. It may be good because more difficult challenges keep those kids interested, but it may also backfire, crushing the kids under extreme pressure from teachers and parents. Anyway, this girl really wants to be the one, and she even tries to have extra ballet classes so she can practice more than the others. When she faces the fact that other girl is chosen, she collapses, enters an weird depressed, almost catatonic state, and a few days later, she runs away from school and she's never seen again. Maybe she went to look for a place where her talent is acknowledged, or maybe she just snapped and tried to run away from the fact she's not the best student. We don't know, but it's very easy to map this to some unfortunate and real situations where kids collapse under the pressure, specially in demanding societies like Japan.
Unlike other reviewers, I don't find this movie to be inappropriate in what relates to the young girl's nudity. This being said, there's one sex-related scene that I believe it's the only one in the movie that is meant to be, which is the glove one. One day before leaving the school, Bianca finds a (velvet?) glove in the theater, that comes from the "adult" world (it belongs to an adult that left the glove behind on her seat). She keeps the glove, and a few moments later we see her using it and feeling the glove's fabric on her legs. I believe this scene marks the end of the innocence, and depicts Bianca starting to get curious about her own sexuality, which is something that usually starts to happen at about her age. I love the metaphor of her hand not being the hand of a child any more, but an adult one, symbolized by the glove. I believe the glove sequence is a master piece by itself, considering how beautifully and non-graphically the issue was handled, and of course, how tricky shooting a scene like this can be in a way that won't shock the audience.
Also, I think the last scenes are very strong and important. First, it's deeply touching to see the contradictory feelings on the teacher's faces when saying goodbye to the girls for the last time. I remember this from my time as a kid, when we ended the 4th grade and switched schools. Teachers are proud and happy to have helped the young girls be ready for the next stage of their lives, and at the same time almost crying because they know that in a few months the girls have moved on and forgot about them forever. It's also important to see the new school, that looks more like a modern office park, with a lot of light (the dark days are over), happy boys and girls playing, water fountains, and no walls or limits. It's a new life for those girls. They moved on from their protected, walled and seemingly pointless environment to the open, real world, where they'll be free to make their own decisions, meet new friends (including boys) and go on with their lives.
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