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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 7 May 2007
I had never heard of this film before i picked it off the shelf, so I had no idea what to expect.

It's based on 'Mine-Haha, or the Physical Education of Young Girls', by a German playwright named Frank Wedekind. The plot revolves around a boarding school for girls roughly aged 5 or 6 up until they hit puberty, in the middle of a dense forest.

As soon as the film starts, it fills the viewer with a sense of foreboding, with a long, flickery opening featuring a child-sized coffin and no music, but a deep, ominous rumbling sound instead. That combined with the next scene, of girls in identical white uniforms opening the coffin to reveal thier new, living, companion, certainly made me expect some kind of sinister nightmare. I, like many other viewers, was concerned that it would turn out to be a film about paedophillia, and I was waiting with bated breath for some true horror to come around the corner.

But actually, there are no monsters or paedophiles, but rather a distinct lack of sexual innuendos. The film really is about innocence. The celebration of young girls in the film would only a few decades ago have seemed totally unremarkable, before such images were so sexualised as they sometimes are nowadays. The subject of developing female sexuality is indeed touched on, especially towards the end, but not in nearly as sinister a manner as one might expect.

The school takes on a life of its own. On the one hand its a child's paradise, where the girls can play and practice dance and gymnastics among the trees and swim in the lake, in between exciting lessons. But it also feels like a prison. It is inescapable, and those who try to escape meet a tragic fate or are never spoken of again. There are many dark elements, including mysterious underground tunnels, and strange sounds which come from beneath the lake. The headmistress takes one blue-ribboned girl a year away from the school, based more on neck length and beauty than dance talent or intelligence.

The imagery is magical and very original, from the lamp-lit trees at night to the ominous red curtain. The cinematography is breathtaking, and gives the film a dreamlike fantasy missing from other films of a similar genre.

Innocence is essentially a film about the magic of young girls and thier own utopian world. It touches on thier emotional and sexual development and the authoritarian structure of the school system, with a sense of anticipation and unease pervading the whole film, reflecting the emotions of a young girl going into puberty, with a suprisingly optimistic ending.

I, for one, absoloutely loved it.
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on 30 April 2008
Innocence is nothing like the other DVDs you might see in the 'similar items' category. If you're looking for something which blends eroticism with art then this is not the film for you.

If, however, you are looking for a refreshing exploration of childhood then Innocence is the film for you. There are sinister sexual overtones but they are presented as exactly that. This is a film about the beauty of childhood. Hadlizahilovic challenges the viewer's preconceptions by suggesting and then withdrawing from the notions of sex and paedophilia. The DVD cover is incredibly suggestive but this film is consciously NOT about sex, a fact which leaves the viewer with a refreshingly innocent image of what childhood should be.
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This is a remarkable film to have been made by anybody at any time, but to realise that this was the 2004 directorial debut by Lucile Hadzihalilovic renders her achievement an astonishing one.
There will always and ever be those who complain with such films that `there is no narrative`, no graspable plot, no `beginning, middle and end`. Well, if you expect clear, unenigmatic narrative, steer well clear of this one.
What you will get is a stunningly beautiful, utterly compelling, unobtrusively unsettling, dreamlike two-hour film of the seemingly idyllic schooldays of a group of young girls, whose ages range from about eight to pre-pubescent, and who appear to arrive at the under-populated rural establishment (set in ravishing woodlands) in a coffin and leave...I mustn`t give too much away, though that would be hard to do with such a serenely mysterious tale as this.
It isn`t exactly a horror film, more a kind of spectral fantasy that hovers between reality and something more off-kilter. I watched mesmerised, if only because of the film`s tightly controlled structure - essential in a film of this sort - and the camerawork of Benoit Debie, the film being shot using wholly natural light. Indeed,
the director has been lucky in her choice of collaborators, not least an unselfish performance by a pre-Piaf Marion Cotillard, playing one of the only two mistresses at the school, a ballet teacher with misgivings of her own (the other teacher has a disconcerting gammy leg and walking-stick) and a hand-picked bunch of girls, none of whom had acted before. The odd thing about it is that very rarely does anyone, children included, look like they are in fact acting, such is the uncanny naturalness of the whole thing.
In the 20-minute Special Feature, the director talks, fascinatingly, about all aspects of the film`s production, as well as her inspirations and influences. She is a director to watch, and it is sad to find she hasn`t yet made another film, though she does occasionally write screenplays for others.
Her source material was a novella by Wedekind (writer of Lulu and Spring Awakening) and at times reminds one of certain other films about childhood, most obviously Picnic At Hanging Rock and Charles Laughton`s sole directorial masterpiece The Night Of The Hunter. I was reminded a little too of the classic French novel of adolescence and lost dreams, Le Grand Meaulnes. Innocence deserves to be spoken of in such august company.
It isn`t perhaps a film to watch that often, but it is nevertheless a unique and rather wonderful experience, with an atmosphere all its own.
Bewitching, troubling, unforgettable.
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2006
"Innocence" is an intriguing film from start to finish and it manages to generate a strong sense of mystery through it's haunting imagery and other-worldly cinematography. There is a strong Tarkovskian feel about "Innocence" ,set as it is in a forest with a series of images of running water, birds singing and quadrupeds roaming. "Innocence" also possesses the type of surreal and perplexing scenes similar to those seen in the excellent "Mulholland Drive". I am thinking about the theatre scene ,obviously , but the whole film has the same sort of wonderful, abstract ,disconnected air about it. There is not much of a story to "Innocence" , which explores relationships between a group of 6-11 year old girls attending an isolated boarding school in the middle of a forest. The pre-teens in "Innocence" live in a strictly hierarchical world bereft of any male presence and they are inculcated by their teachers with values of obedience ,conformity and group loyalty. Perhaps the psychological framework into which these children are moulded by their teachers provides the viewer with an insight into, and perhaps even acts as an allegory for ,the collectivist , conformist sameness displayed in the mindset of your typical ,Amazonian ,adult female today ? Or perhaps not. "Innocence" doesn't really provide any clear answers for the viewer , who is left to interpret this film in their own subjective way. "Innocence" has been accused of being borderline paedophilia and certainly there are numerous scenes of pre-teen girls prancing about in a state of undress and manifold up-skirt ,white panty shots. However the images were in no way erotic. One has to give credit to the director for creating a stylish, original film and attaining some excellent performances from a cast of very young girls who possessed no acting experience prior to the making of "Innocence".
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on 7 February 2015
Mysteries abound, even in adulthood. We don't know much about our place in the cosmos, for instance. But in childhood the whole world looks baffling. Children know so little and lean on adults for almost everything, following their leads and hoping they are wise.

This film illuminates the predicament of childhood very well. In a way we are prisoners of it and depend on our masters, the adults, for protection and guidance. They make the rules because they have the power. We long to grow up and be independent, but this takes time and when you're young time is the never-ending thing. We'll never be free and adult ourselves it feels like. So we learn to follow the rules.

The girls are guarded here. They all wear white, a symbol of their purity and chastity. The wood is dark at night and they don't go near it, sticking to the lamp-lit paths that wind through it. But sunlit summer daytime is enchanting, a place of play, swimming, chasing butterflies and doing cartwheels. By day nature is sensuous, beautiful and benign. The girls are deliriously happy in it.

Beyond the high walls that surround the forest and boarding-school dormitories where the girls live is another dark world — the big bad one all of us live in. When the girls reach puberty they will be shepherded from their place of innocence to face the challenges of the world beyond. One such challenge of course is sex, an aspect of life they've been simultaneously shielded from and gently, delicately, gradually prepared to encounter. Not overtly, but the tension of it is there throughout the film. We know where this is leading. We know their innocence must end.

But womanhood and all its demands will come soon enough, even if that time feels so distant to the girls. Until it does the girls should be protected as much as possible. Although it does not say so in its non-narrative voice, the film is about this journey all girls must make. Childhood, that beautiful thing we honour and adore, cannot last. In one brief scene we watch a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the symbolism clear enough.

The experience of watching this film was exquisite for me. I found everything about it breathtakingly beautiful. It's a dark fairy tale and great work of art. If I could give it 10 stars, I would. The young actors are not actors. They are just girls, completely natural and innocent. They are believable because they are authentic. I wish this filmmaker would make more films, as she has important things to say.
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If Lucile Hadzihalilovic was aiming for an enigmatic debut with Innocence - then she's certainly succeeded!

The film is set in the micro-reality of a private school cut off from the rest of the world by a surrounding wall. The girls in the school arrive in a coffin to begin their stay. Sounds dark? The feeling continues.

They have no visitors, in fact; no contact with the outside world whatsoever. They have a hierarchical system identified by coloured hair ribbons - red, for example; represents the youngest girls.

With the highly sexualised culture we live in, you can't but feel slightly uncomfortable at the sight of the near naked girls bathing in a lake, and the various other scenes involving more than the usual amount of flesh. This seems to complement the title perfectly - "Innocence" - there is nothing sexual about the scenes, nothing untoward, there is nothing to be uncomfortable about. There is only one scene which could be labelled sexual, but it is a very tasteful moment involving an older girl experimenting with the feel of velvet against her skin.

The general eeriness of the film is fortified by the lack of verbal communication, especially from adults - there must only be 5 or 6 minutes of adult dialogue. There is a sense of unease amongst the tutors and you try to imagine how the cause of this will all be revealed at the end.

Who put the girls in the school? Why aren't they allowed out until they hit puberty? Who are the late night ballet performances for? You start to think the unthinkable, especially when during a late night performance a girl catches a flower from a hidden audience member and is told she is the prettiest girl on stage.

So many questions posed - but unfortunately never answered.

I love a film which encourages you to think, but sometimes it seems lazy to not offer any sort of explanation. You think back to the long scenes and try to think if you saw any clues as to the school's mission, but nothing comes to mind.

In a nutshell: Beautifully shot, lengthy scenes with some dark moments and an overall dark feel. This film ends though without satisfying your protective parental instincts about the girls. At least there is an upbeat scene at the end to stop it ending on a low.
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Based upon Wedekind’s novella ‘Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls’ this is certainly a haunting and thoughtful film. Lucile Hadzihalilovic who directed this also wrote the screenplay, which she admits did take quite some time.

Anyone coming to this for the first time should really be warned that there is some partial nudity (and on one occasion full nudity of one girl), of young girls between the ages of six to twelve. This could thus make viewers feel unsettled and uncomfortable. The unsettling feeling is I suppose one of the uses of this by the director; the second feeling though probably comes from us feeling like voyeurs, and will also remind some of certain events including well known personages. In the main context of the film though, this does add to the naturalistic feel as we have here girls in a boarding school of sorts, with no male presence.

For us it starts off with little Iris being taken out of a coffin at the school, a ritual that seems to happen when the elder girls leave and everyone moves up a year. We get an idea of how old the girls all are by the coloured ribbons that they wear in their hair. Living in separate houses spread throughout beautiful woodland, and one larger building where lessons are held this seem an idyll. The girls spend a lot of time playing in the woods, and swimming in the river that runs through it. As Iris is introduced to the area, the other children and the rituals and school legends so are we, so we have as much information as the new arrivals.

But is this as lovely as it sounds? There are no visitors, only the headmistress and her assistant who arrives once a year, although we do find out about another type of visit eventually. We see how a couple of girls try to escape the confines of the place, as with no visitors there is also no contact with the outside world at all. This thus, despite the beautiful scenery does add a certain claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere to this film, which was shot using natural light.

In all a disturbing film that you have to engage with due to a limited amount of talking, this starts out mysterious and in a way like a fairytale, but you soon start to feel a certain menace and disturbing images start to enter in your mind as you come to your own interpretation of this tale. This is not then like a traditional story told in a film, and the ending is like that as well, leaving us with a number of conclusions that we can come to, which does mean that this stays with you, and haunts you to a certain extent.

There are some extras here, the original film trailer, a biography of Lucile Hadzihlilovic, and an interview with her, which is worth watching.
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on 30 May 2006
This is really such an allegorical film you could spend a long time analysing it as it's not by any means an easy background film. This is a deep, dark, disturbing, foreboding film with many uncomfortable scenes and implications. Yet it's also gently dreamy and poetic, beautiful, idyllic, progressive and optomistic mystery. Far from tedious or shallow it's meticlous and admirable on many levels. The point of life is the journey after all, not the ending!

The young cast are amazing in their roles, completely natural; it just gives you enough to then do the job of scaring yourself. Themes of nature and human beauty translate well to screen despite being over 100 years old in book form. It's a mystery/thriller and as such with location, colours, careful camera angles and unsettling themes is rather disturbing but not inappropriate within context - in some ways it draws many parallels with cultural ideals that remain today. It examines almost scientifically yet compells the viewer to react somewhat emotively both the natural and the cultural, behaviour patterns and social control and through that question ideas, choices and life itself.

Cycles, nature symbolism, religion, rules and hierachy feature through the case studies of three varying aged girls. It's an eerie, secret society atmosphere with visual parallels displayed in fantastic award winning camera work and limited, precise dialogue - a falsely created world within a world of deliberate lightness and dark, good and bad, individual and group, child and adult, animal and human. Both characters and setting are isolated by physical and psychological barriers. Female development is responsibly explored as integral to the story, not to be misconstrued as an attempt at cheap perversion. Utopia is assessed are the negatives of jealousy, competition, violence, withdrawl, bitterness and bullying - things some people may not enjoy viewing. This film attempts to demonstrate the nature/human parallels of birth, tumultuous development and maturation via the nurturing if restrictive school in a responsible, appropriate and natural way. We also have to adjust ourselves to the other worldly regime and perhaps non-conformity of this fictional, artificial life presented as their immediate limited reality. This is by a female writer/director whose partner did the more direct and better received "Irreversible."
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on 16 July 2006
I wouldn't say i 'enjoyed' this film, but it was intriguing, which drew me into the story. The cinematography is stunning, and the design of the concepts themselves merit a watch. However, If you like films with answers, then this isn't suitable for you. It's deeply mysterious to the end. In my opinion just a little too mysterious. The viewer is very much left to make their own interpretations, but i don't think quite enough information is given to do that. Ultimately i found it quite an unfulfilling film, even though i was left pondering over just what it meant for days! It's not a poor film by any means, it's just an acquired taste.
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on 1 March 2006
Innocence is a mysterious piece of of largely visual filmmaking with an impressive, mostly child cast. It is clearly intended as an allegory or parable about the end of childhood and the awakenings of adolescence, and is not meant to be treated too literally (clearly some people are puzzled by this, see below!). Thankfully, the metaphorical level is not force-fed to the viewer as a pretentious and knowingly clever layer of meaning, but rather an implication in a film of great beauty and suspense. Children arrive in a coffin at a boarding school deep in a forest. They explore the haunted landscape of the school grounds which they are not permitted to leave, some pondering escape. The film is shot in the unsettling - sometimes seemingly voyeuristic - Surrealist style of Bunuel, but with echoes of David Lynch's Eraserhead. Mostly free of dialogue, it finds expression in the painterly qualities of its imagery and the spooky hum of its enchanted interior spaces. Tapping into Childhood fears and nightmares, its is the kind of film you would love to tune into in the middle of the night and be completely freaked-out by. The film does not seek to explain its mysteries, nor should it. The suspense and style is engaging on its own right, evolving into a startling and thought-provoking final sequence.
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