Friday, October 30, 2009


The school is isolated. It is surrounded by woodland. Paths wind secretly through the trees. The lake is good for swimming but the rowing boat sits low in the water, hull leaking. The wall that encloses everything is huge and overgrown with vines. It is forbidden to go beyond the wall. You risk punishment.

Iris (Zoe Auclair) arrives in a coffin and the other girls open it up and help her to climb out. The coffin is small. Iris is six. The girls show her where to wash and sleep. They give her ribbons for her hair. The ribbons are red because Iris is the youngest. Bianca (Berangere Haubruge) wears violet ribbons because she is the eldest.

Iris becomes immediately attached to Bianca and wishes they could stay together forever. But Bianca goes somewhere at night. She leaves the dormitory at nine o'clock when the other girls go to sleep. They wake at seven, have breakfast at eight and start work at nine. Work consists of Miss Eva (Marion Cotillard) putting them through their paces at the barre.

The only other adults are Miss Edith (Helene de Fougerolles), who walks with a stick, and the elderly domestics. "They are here to serve us. If they don't, they are punished." Some of the girls speculate that Miss Edith's injured leg was a punishment from when she was a girl and tried to escape: the Head broke her leg. The Head visits occasionally and a girl is Chosen. The Chosen girl is lucky because she gets to leave. Laura (Olga Peytavi-Muller) wants to escape. Alice (Lea Bridarolli) wants to be Chosen. Iris frets that Bianca might leave soon. The woods burgeon with life: caterpillars, snails, snakes. Rain lashes the lake.

The school is often quiet, the girls playing outside, in the woods, when they are not being taught. The corridors are often empty, milky light filtering in through high windows. There are other corridors, underground ones. Some of the girls are ushered down these corridors, into a theatre where they dance for an audience who are never seen. The school gives up some of its secrets only to reveal further enigma.

'Innocence' is dreamlike, haunting, disturbing in ways that you can't quite pin down. It is metaphorical. It keeps the secrets of its self-contained world just out of reach. It does not offer resolution, only a sense of the cyclical: of things developing, emerging from the chrysalis, and the eternal and mysterious process beginning again.

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