This weekend I had the opportunity to view a very unusual film entitled The Innocents. It is a French film with English subtitles about cloistered nuns in a Polish Benedictine monastery at the end of World War II (December, 1945). The film begins with the nuns in their chapel, chanting, with the sound of a woman wailing in the background. One of the novices fears for the health of her fellow novice and breaks her vow of enclosure in an attempt to find a physician to help her. She leaves the chapel and ventures outdoors, where she persuades a street urchin to assist her in her search and is led to the Red Cross. There, she connects with Mathilde, a young French Red Cross physician based in Warsaw. When she arrives at the monastery, she finds a young woman (a novice) in labor. However, the nuns lie about her identity to prevent her from discovering the full truth. Eventually, Mathilde learns that the entire order has been deeply traumatized and that several of the nuns are pregnant as a result of a succession of sexual assaults by the Russian Communist Army.
The Mother Superior (who has some serious psychological and moral problems) initially resists medical assistance for her nuns because she is admittedly terrified of the shame of exposure and the hostility of the newly installed Communist government. Eventually, she agrees to accept medical help, but only from Mathilde, a French physician who is a non-believer.
The nuns, whose faith has been challenged by the horrific and brutal sexual assaults, lean on Mathilde, for not only for physical concerns but for emotional support. Some of the challenges the nuns face include: difficulty in having their bodies examined by the female physician, a breech birth, syphilis, and the unusual disappearance of a newborn.
This film captured my attention and interest because it was so unique. I never knew what to expect next. However, I experienced the same uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had when I watched The Nun’s Story several years ago, but even more so during the viewing of this film. Certain parts made me cringe, especially those scenes from the film dealing with the Mother Superior. However, I did feel hopeful about Mathilde’s relationship with the nuns and her willingness to assist them, in spite of the risks she took.
Overall, this film seemed like far-fetched fiction to me in the way the Mother Superior and several of the nuns behaved. I believe that it is another film that puts a dim light on Catholicism and on Catholic authority. The ending, which was supposed to satisfy the viewer, hardly seemed like a solution to the real problem this monastery faced.
For showtimes for The Innocents, go Here and click on Theaters.