Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Innocents (2016)

From Lisa Hendey:
While The Innocents plays out on the big screen in Polish and French with English subtitles, the breathtaking portrayals turned in by Mathilde (Lou de Laage), Sister Maria (Agata Buzek) and Mother Abbess (Agata Kulesza) quickly have the viewer forgetting that the heartbreaking action of this film does not play out in one’s mother tongue. In reality, the sinister turn of events that has left several of the cloistered nuns in the movie pregnant due to repeated rapes in post-World War II Poland is based upon the historic writings of French Physician Madeleine Pauliac, as her nephew Philippe Maynial recounts:
The situation in Poland was dramatic. Warsaw, a martyred city after 2 months of insurrection against the German occupant (between August and October 1944), had been razed to the ground causing the death of 20,000 combatants and 180,000 civilians. During this time, the Russian Army, present in Poland since January 1944 under Stalin’s orders, remained armed and waiting on the other bank of the Vistula River. After a backward surge from the German Army and the discovery of all the acts of violence committed by the Germans, the Red Army and its provisional administration followed to rule over the liberated territories. It’s within this context that Madeleine Pauliac was named in April 1945 Chief Doctor of the French Hospital in Warsaw, which was in ruins. She was in charge of repatriation within the French Red Cross. She conducted this mission throughout Poland and parts of the Soviet Union. She accomplished over 200 missions with the Blue Squadron Unit of women volunteer ambulance drivers for the Red Cross in order to search for, treat and repatriate French soldiers who had remained in Poland. It’s in these circumstances that she discovered the horror in the maternity wards where the Russians had raped women who had just given birth as well as women in labor; individual rapes were legion and there were collective rapes perpetrated in convents. She gave medical care to these women. She helped them to heal their conscience and save their convent. Madeleine Pauliac died accidentally while on a mission near Warsaw in February 1946. Les Innocents recounts this episode of her fight as a woman to save other women.
This is not an easy film to watch. And unlike some other films which treat faith-based topics with kid gloves and neat endings, The Innocents does not tie its final package into a totally perfect gift with a pretty ribbon on top. While Mathilde and Sister Maria manage to find a solution which honors the dignity of life, there are still massive questions of faith, of guilt, of commitment to vocation and indeed of the potential for salvation which are left for the viewer to contemplate for herself. (Read more.)

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