Friday, July 7, 2017

Les Innocentes (2016)

 Sister Maria: However much I pray, I cannot find any consolation. Every day, I relive what happened. Every day. I still smell the stench of them. They came back three times. Each time, they... They should have killed us. It's a miracle they didn't. ~Les Innocentes (2016)
Ecce cívitas Sáncti fácta est desérta:
Síon desérta fácta est:
Jerúsalem desoláta est:
dómus sanctificatiónis túæ et glóriæ túæ,
ubi laudavérunt te pátres nóstri.

Behold, the holy city is a wilderness:
Sion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation:
the house of your sanctification and your glory,
where thee our fathers praised. ~from the Rorate Coeli
In one of the early scenes of the 2016 Polish-French film Les Innocentes, a community of Benedictine nuns in Soviet-occupied Poland are shown chanting the traditional hymn of the Advent liturgy, the Rorate Coeli. The words of the ancient chant capture so well the situation of the monastery of consecrated women, who have survived an invasion of their home by Communist Russian forces, who raped the sisters repeatedly for three days. Roughly nine months after the attack, seven of the nuns are pregnant and about to give birth; others are infected with syphilis. Not only is the health of the community at stake but their very survival. They live in dread that the rape will become known and their devout benefactors will desert them, leading to a dissolution of the monastery. Almost more horrifying than the desecration of the virgins of Christ is the idea that they must worry about their honor in the eyes of the larger Catholic community, as if any victimized woman, especially in a time of war, could be viewed as guilty or shameful. Protecting themselves from judgmentalism is an additional cross which leads to fresh tragedy.

As the film opens, the nuns have valiantly continued to live their Holy Benedictine Rule; the regular life of prayer and work is clearly helping them to preserve their sanity. But as the screams of a young sister in labor echo through the monastery, it is obvious that earthly help is needed. One of the young novices seeks the aid of a French Red Cross doctor, Mathilde Beaulieu, who turns out to be the perfect physician for the nuns in their plight. Brought up as an atheist and a Communist, Mathilde is unconnected to the local Catholic community and promises to protect their secret. She faces the situation with practical energy, risking her own safety to return again and again to minister to the pregnant nuns, and bringing with her a co-worker, a Jewish male doctor, to help. Her determination to do the best for the sisters and their little babies, the ultimate innocents, is truly inspiring. As she talks to the various sisters, she learns how the trauma has affected each nun in different ways, which in itself is a harrowing glance at the effects of sexual assault.

[SPOILERS] Mathilde is told that the Mother Abbess is giving the babies to loving families. Then it is discovered that Mother is really leaving the infants in a basket at a wayside shrine along a snowy back road, determined to protect the nuns from scandal. However,  Mathilde finds a solution in which the nuns can keep their babies and their reputations, by opening up the cloister to the many orphaned children who roam the countryside. Based upon true events, the most troubling aspect of the film, other than the abuse lavished upon the nuns by the soldiers, is the fear they had of their own people. In our time of total laxity, it is hard to believe that there as a time when people blamed the victims of sex crimes as harshly as the perpetrators. Perhaps that harshness, in itself immoral, led the pendulum to swing so that now no one is blamed for anything, except the innocent, if they dare to point out the least wrong or moral failing. The world, then as now, threatens to devour the innocent; only love characterized by sacrifice can bring heaven's triumph. Share

1 comment:

Pelerin said...

A beautiful film - it moved me to tears when I saw it.