Is this a horror movie or a grim fairy tale? Dedicated to her colleague, confrontationalist director Gaspar Noé, and sourced from a work by dark expressionist Frank Wedekind, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s stunning debut describes the purgatorial existence of schoolgirls in a sequestered rural college. In their crisp white gym shifts andpigtail ribbons colour-coded by age, these prepubescent model pupils are self-policing, save for a lone crippled mistress and a ballet teacher and the hovering threat of their ‘graduation’ ceremony in the mysterious house through the dark wood from whence none ever return. Meticulously shot by Benoît Debie with the chromatic richness of the pre-Raphaelite painters – you can almost smell the moss and decay – and miraculously acted by its predominately young cast, Hadzihalilovic’s film may make for a finally problematic feminist fable, but its unique vision conjures memories of the terrible beauty of Franju’s surreal work and Laughton’s supreme symbolist invocation of childhood, ‘The Night of the Hunter’.
“Innocence always calls mutely for protection, When we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it” -Graham Greene
A symbolic tale set in the sun-dappled grounds of a mysterious girls’ boarding school, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Innocence is certainly one of the more evocative, confident and also sinister portrayals of female awakening that I’ve seen. Moths flutter in the glow of unusual lamps that seem to hang, unattached, above well-trodden woodland paths. A forlorn, child-sized coffin stands alone in the dusty surroundings of an empty bedroom. A boat, green with decades of wear, bumps audibly and incessantly against its rickety jetty. This is the world in which these impressionable young girls, categorized by the coloured ribbons they wear, innocently frolic. They gossip, do chores, and play on the vast lawns and in the imposing shadow of a mansion; a shadow that later comes to represent the adulthood towards which they are hurtling, unknowingly, at such a relentless pace.
Also, the director is Gaspar Noé’s wife.
Also, Marion Cotillard is involved.