French-Polish film in those two languages (with some Russian), based on 1945 immediately post-war true story of aftermath of a Polish convent being pillaged by advancing Soviet soldiers, the 15 or so nuns therein having suffered rape, not just the once but also on two further 'visits' - with the consequence of half a dozen of them falling pregnant, their times of delivery being close together.
As you can imagine, the story is unremittingly bleak - at least that is all apart from its conclusion which seemed to be tacked on to show that life after such a dark episode need not be entirely hopeless.
It begins in the convent with a girl in labour, who had been taken in by the nuns on account of her being rejected by her parents for having become pregnant. In need of help, one of the younger nuns sneaks out of the convent and seeks a French Red Cross nurse (Lou de Laage) working in a makeshift hospital which treats newly liberated French survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. After some persuasion she agrees to accompany the nun back, but without telling her Jewish boss (Vincent Macaigne), the head doctor-surgeon, with whom she's having an affair - he being the keener, she rather less passionate about the relationship.
At the convent, and out of sight of the sternly inflexible mother-abbess (Agata Kulesza) - who herself carries consquences of the attack on the nuns, and who is determined to keep the entire episode as their own 'secret' so as to shield the convent's ordeal from the outside world - the nurse after delivering the baby, discovers the advanced state of pregnancy of one of the nuns and gets to know what had happened. She then examines all the nuns, to the horror of the mother-abbess who is afraid the nurse will leak out the story of what happened. On discovering the reality, the nurse has to perform a balancing act of concealment from her lover/boss in the hospital while assisting where she can with deliveries. The fate of the new-born babies might be regarded by those outside the church as heartless - at least one wretched case markedly so - whereas in the mind of the abbess the reputations of the convent and the Church are paramount.
There are crises of faith among the nuns while the mother-abbess clings rigidly to the notion that it's best all left to Providence and to an all-knowing God.
It hardly needs saying that the story is utterly horrifying, all set in a country at Winter-chill season with more than a fair dusting of snow on the rock-hardened earth. I dare suggest that the story is far from unique. Thankfully, we are spared any flashbacks of the original attacks on the nurses, which would have been horribly indulgent.
The only other film I've seen from director Anne Fontaine is 2009's 'Coco Before Chanel' to which I awarded a low '4' rating. 'The Innocents' is far better if only, by the very nature of what it relates, it's much more involving, though it has to be necessarily cold in illustration. And then there's the question of the positive ending. Whether that is also part of the true story or is simply put in to cast some much missed 'sunlight' onto all that's gone before, I have no idea. Whatever, it's a story that needs to be told, and this film achieves it efficiently.................6.5.
6 hours ago