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Innocence (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 17, 2013

I probably seem overly fixated on my top 100 list in my reviews, especially my rewatch reviews.  Maybe I shouldn’t care so much, but it’s important to me… it defines (to some degree, not entirely) my persona as a movie fan, a film buff, a cinephile.  So there’s always a sense of stakes involved when I’m revisiting one of my top 100.  Especially when it’s one of only three female-directed movies on my list.  That’s a shockingly poor ratio.  To some extent I can blame that on the film industry and also the fact that I am a male (though I don’t consider myself an especially “masculine” person).  Still, it’d be a shame to lose 33% of the movies directed by women if I didn’t happen to like this one as much any more.

But no worries, Lucile Hadzilhalilovic’s debut feature — sadly, her only feature to date — is safe.  Its dreamlike ambiguities, rich metaphorical content, and cinematic beauty appeal directly to my sensibilities.  It’s one of those films you can enjoy just for its strange, fairytale-esque atmosphere…. or for its multitude of possible interpretations.

It does seem to me to be at least partly about the inadequate ways we prepare our children for puberty and adulthood.  These girls are thrust into the world with little knowledge of anything except dance, how to make themselves desirable, how to follow rules.  When little Alice escapes, we hear dogs howling and fear she’ll have a tough time navigating the perils of the outside world.  But perhaps her rebelliousness is an asset, and there may be more hope for her than the girls who obediently follow the system.  The strictly regimented life of the “school” — the ribbon hierarchy, the rigid schedule, the unwavering number of pupils — may be doing them more harm than good.  You can observe the look of anxiety on the teachers’ faces, uncertain if they’re complicit in a misguided, and possibly sinister, education.  The scene where Alice and her classmates are evaluated (primarily on the basis of their physical attributes rather than their abilities and talents) is quietly harrowing.

And what to make of the sexual undertones?  Are they even present, or is it a sort of Rorschach test for the viewer?  If you are disturbed by the images of nearly naked (and in one scene, completely naked) young girls, does that say more about you, the filmmaker, or a society that has molded us?  What does all of this say about “innocence”, how we should protect it, and how we begin the process of letting it go?  Perhaps letting them loose into puberty is the best solution after all.

Throughout, the film is drenched in lush, natural beauty.  It’s an idyllic location that’s gorgeously photographed, itself a provocative choice because it’s also a prison.  These are the paradoxes of childhood… in some ways a utopia, in other ways very frightening and mysterious and ominous.  Unlike her partner Gaspar Noe, however, Hadzilhalilovic employs a light touch in her provocations.  The result is perhaps even more unsettling.  The internal conflicts quietly rage inside you as you try to process what you’re seeing, and what it means to you.  A magnificently layered and wide-open film.  Rating: Masterpiece (96)

IMDb
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