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Thread: Lucile Hadzihalilovic's INNOCENCE

  1. #1
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    Lucile Hadzihalilovic's INNOCENCE

    The number of screens nationwide where foreign films are exhibited continues to decrease. This loose adaptation of German Symbolist Frank Wedekind's Mine Haha or The Corporal Education of Young Girls (1888) was officially released in the US in 2005. However, nowadays, distribution of a foreign film can mean a one-week run in a Manhattan theater and isolated screenings in a couple of other markets. It becomes increasingly important to pay attention to dvd releases in order to access some of the best of international cinema. And Innocence is precisely that, an absolutely brilliant film finally available on dvd in the US.

    Innocence is a fable-like, allegorical tale set in a walled, all-girls school in the middle of a dense forest. Every effort has been made to eschew any specifics of time and place in order to convey a timeless, universal quality. Wardrobe and props are based on writer/director Lucila Hadzihalilovic's memories of attending a similar school in the late 1960s_her parents emigrated from Bosnia to France, where she was born in 1961.

    The girls living in Innocence's unnamed school range from 6 to 11 years old, corresponding to a period of human development called latency. What's unique about this period is a natural repression of the sexual impulse just before it blossoms during puberty. The complete absence of males in Innocence's universe, a hermetic parallel realm where outside contact is nonexistent, doesn't bother most girls. It's a benign place where girls are treated kindly, taught dance and science, and allowed ample playtime. It's also a prison, a place where the past has been largely forgotten and the future can't be envisioned; where obedience and acquiescence are consistently encouraged. The experience is like the natural environment surrounding the buildings where the girls live and learn. It's beautiful and menacing.

    You've never seen a forest this lush and edenic; shot in CinemaScope with concentrated, somewhat saturated colors. The scenes that supposedly take place at night are particularly entrancing. They were filmed using the day-for-night technique and inspired by a number of paintings by Magritte in which one can't tell whether it's day or night. The use of color is obviously a matter given much attention. The ribbons of different colors that designate each girl's stage of passage stand out against the creamy white uniforms they wear and nature's dark greens. Other than scattered close-ups of snakes and gushing water, the ominous, portentous mood that pervades the film is mostly within the soundtrack. The sound design consists mostly of manipulated but natural ambient sounds and bits of 19th century classical music.

    There's no music score or anything else providing clues as to how to feel or what to think. Innocence contains a number of mysteries. Some are ultimately revealed (where do the oldest girls go at night and what happens when they come-of-age), others are not (what happens to the girl who climbs the wall and escapes to "the other side" prematurely, how do their families figure into all this). The material is extremely rich in terms of meaning and symbolic resonance. Innocence is to me, among other things, a mythic allegory about human growth, a treatise on social adaptation, and a meditation on separate-sex education and gender conditioning. Yet, Hadzihalilovic approaches Wedekind's novella so that it's open to a wide variety of personal interpretations. Innocence is a rare film of sublime beauty and transcendence.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 12-05-2007 at 12:22 PM.

  2. #2
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    I have a French DVD of this which typically is very good quality. A very austere piece of work, certainly distinctive. Didn't we discuss it somewhere previously?

  3. #3
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    I had nothing to say about it before my dvd review because I didn't see it in a theater. It was the last film added to my list of Favorite Films of 2005

  4. #4
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    My discussion of the film is on Filmleaf here.

    I also listed it as one of my best foreign films of 2005 with the comment here, "Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic) A terrifyingly consistent, coherent, and beautiful first film that provides a fantastic dreamlike vision of girlhood and oppression.." These comments will be found here.

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