Les innocentes (The innocents)

I don’t think that this topic and historical fact has ever been the subject of a film. We know that during wars, nuns were sometimes brutally raped. Les innocentes deals with aftermath of those terrible events. It begins in December 1945 when a young nun from a Polish convent defies Mother Superior’s strict orders and leaves the convent to seek the help of doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge). Doctor Beaulieu is working at a nearby French Red Cross hospital. At the convent she is allowed in by the reluctant Mother Superior (Agata Kulesza), and see her patient a young nun who is just about to give birth. Mathilde is assisted by Sister Maria (Agata Buzek) who explains what the situation is. A few month earlier, Soviet soldiers occupied the convent and raped the nuns. The secret must be kept because the blame and the shame would fall on the victims. This revolting situation is probably why we have not heard more about these events. Mathilde is trying to help as best she can, even as it causes problems at the hospital. She also is having an affair with fellow doctor Samuel (Vincent Macaigne). And she becomes friends with Sister Maria and the others nuns. This is Anne Fontaine’s best film. The first scene shows a young nun walking in the snow, her black robe becoming increasingly paler. This is the work of cinematographer Caroline Champetier who has used minimal lights inside the convent settings. It all seems to be lighted through windows. And Fontaine has found the perfect trio of actresses: the main actress de Laâge is the energy that drives the film and she is actually draining to watch. Polish actress Agata Kulesza’s Mother Superior is more than simply harsh and dour. It is desperate resignation we see in those eyes. And Agata Buzek is the most accomplished performance in Les innocentes. Maria’s devotion to God is embodied physically and emotionally by Buzek. But, unlike Mother Superior, Sister Maria is not resigned and she refuses despair. What a beautiful film!

You should know… Mathilde Beaulieu is based on the story of  Docteur Madeleine Pauliac (1912 – 1946). During World war II, Pauliac was a doctor in the French resistance and in 1944 she then took part in the liberation of Paris. In early 1945, as a medical lieutenant in the French military, Pauliac left for Moscow. Then in April, Pauliac was appointed chief doctor of the hospital of Warsaw, Poland. For the French Red Cross, Pauliac performed more than 200 missions throughout Poland and the Soviet Union, with the Blue Squadron, a unit of women ambulance volunteers of the French Red Cross. Pauliac died in an automobile accident on 13 February 1946, in Sochaczew, near Warsaw. She was only 33 years old. She was  posthumously awarded the French Légion d’honneur with the rank of knight of the Croix de guerre (1939 – 1945). Les innocentes was based on a segment from Pauliac’s diary. The diary is now the property of her nephew Philippe Maynial. It is Maynial who brought the idea to director Anne Fontaine.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les innocentes (The innocents)

Directed by:
Anne Fontaine

Screenplay by:
Sabrina B. Karine
Alice Vial
Pascal Bonitzer
Anne Fontaine
based on an idea from Philippe Maynial

Lou de Laâge
Agata Kulesza
Agata Buzek
Vincent Macaigne

115 min.

Rated 14A

In Polish and French with English subtitles.


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