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Holy Hell

This tale of wartime evil will make your blood boil

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Innocents
Broadway Theatre
Opens Saturday 27
4 out of 5

It seems the horror stories from the second world war are infinite. The Innocents tackles an exceptionally harrowing one — a tale so devastating, it’s hard to recover faith in mankind after the credits.

Set in 1945 Poland, The Innocents opens as a mystery: a nun in distress begs a young French female doctor for attention. Turns out a novice in her convent is in labour and there are seven other pregnant sisters.

Poland’s so-called “liberators” are responsible. Because of issues (vows of chastity, fear of a sullied reputation), the physician must navigate religious dogma and conflicting post-war interests to help the sisterhood.

No institution comes out on top in this movie: not the Soviet army, the Catholic hierarchy or the Red Cross, all of which are too willing to say “mission accomplished” and pack their bags. The only ones who help are the few with a modicum of compassion left in them.

The Innocents is daring enough to also deal with the side-effects — such as the fate of the infants or the predictable loss of faith among nuns. The ending, which offers a glimmer of hope in an impossible situation, is earned, but it doesn’t put our minds at ease.

Outside the film’s topical value, The Innocents is technically impeccable. The first hour shows an urgency the second can’t match. Perhaps a notch too polished for a role of the doctor, Lou de Laâge nevertheless does a great job as the audience stand-in. He’s perpetually appalled and filled with righteous anger. Who wouldn’t be?

The female gaze gives The Innocents a coat of freshness. Credit director Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Adore), who delivers her best movie in a career dedicated to portraying women.