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Chris Knipp
11-29-2005, 11:42 PM
Lucile Hadzihalilovic: Innocence (2005) French-only dvd bought in Paris.

An unusually distinctive and self-assured first film and a beautiful, if limited -- the French have said "rigorous" -- reverie or metaphorical tale by Gaspar No's companion and collaborator (who dedicated it to him) about girls in a mysterious school out in the woods. They are brought in individually in coffins and study only physical science and dancing, and perform for an unseen audience that pays the costs of their education. They have only a couple of young women teachers and older women attendants, and they are graded by development and wear colored ribbons in their hair to indicate their level. Occasionally one is chosen to leave the school. Entering and leaving has a Through the Looking-Glass quality. Water is a potent and pervasive symbol: streams, rain, fountains. One girl who tries too hard to leave disappears and is never spoken of again. Her coffin is burned on a funeral pyre. Obviously one subject of this fable is passage into womanhood and at times, though Hadzihalilovic speaks in a 12-minute talk (an extra on the French DVD) of wanting to maintain mystery, the implications are all too obvious. Why do the girls wear nothing but immaculate little white outfits and short skirts -- but rather butch little booties? The whole thing, despite the wonderful hushed mood that does achieve magic at times, can also at times seem ridiculous -- and one can imagine this appealing to the most prurient "Balthus" types. The mise en scne and editing are admirable and the image quality in the dvd is excellent too. For references some, including French critics, have gone to Picnic at Hanging Rock, but for some reason I thought of Michael Thornhill's 1988 Australian gay cult film, (http://www.outrate.net/outrateeverlastingsecret.html) The Everlasting Secret Family. Michael Atkinson of the Village Voice gave Innocence a rave. (http://www.villagevoice.com/film/0542,atkinson,69143,20.html ) British critics in the Guardian were much more reserved in their comments. (http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Critic_Review/Guardian_review/0,4267,1581000,00.html) A French-language dvd commentary (http://dvdtoile.com/CritiqueDvd.php?dvd=20377 ) cites a number of sources and related works. For its stylistic originality this is one to watch.