Part horror film, part fairy-tale and pure allegory. Nothing in Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s 2004 film is as it seems. Much like her artistic partner, filmmaker Gaspar Noé, Hadzihalilovic is obviously interested in making films that push past expectations and delve into the unconscious mind. Innocence isn’t simply a film about what’s on the screen. It is a film that reflects what the audience chooses to see when they watch it. The movie takes place in the dream-like surroundings of a gated school for young women where imagery is much more important than story. Characters speak very little and what they do say is often less important than what they don’t say.

Throughout Innocence Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s direction is flawless and once you’ve entered the world she’s created it’s impossible to forget it. Much like Peter Weir’s excellent 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, Innocence uses the sterile and beautiful world of a girl’s boarding school as a backdrop for exploring ideas about society, power, control and gender. How we respond to these films often illustrates the way in which we see the world. But there’s no denying that this is a film intended to shake up its audience and make them think. At times watching Innocence is an uncomfortable experience and it should make viewers squirm. It’s a horror film without shocks. It’s a fairy-tale for adults. This is anything but disposable entertainment. It will crawl under your skin and stick there.




Besides the unforgettable imagery found in the film, one of my favorite things about Innocence is the way Lucile Hadzihalilovic incorporated natural sounds into the soundtrack. In the opening and closing moments of  the film the deep dark sound of rushing water seems to bubble up from your subconscious and signal to the audience that they’re watching something extraordinary. Water is often used to symbolize purity as well as fertility and Hadzihalilovic makes great use of water symbolism in her extraordinary film.

Innocence is available on DVD from Amazon and can be rented at Netflix and Greencine.

Modern Mondays is an ongoing project here at Cinebeats where I share a few thoughts or lengthy rants and raves about my favorite films produced during the last decade. Films previously mentioned on Modern Mondays include:
The Left Bank (2008)
Love Songs (2007)
Bright Future (2003)
Control (2007)
The Quiet American (2001)
A History of Violence (2005)
This Is England (2007)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)

12 thoughts on “Modern Mondays: Innocence (2004)

  1. Wish I had seen this one when it played the film festival; I don’t believe it ever got a release theatrically here in SF, but glad to learn it’s on DVD.

  2. I wish I had seen it on the big screen, myself. I think it would be a really amazing theatrical experience.

    Hadzihalilovic is a fascinating director/producer and I’m really looking forward to her next film, Evolution. The write-ups I’ve read make it sound like it could be a similar film about youth, but told from the male perspective since it’s about young boys.

  3. It’s a beautiful film and you pointed out a few things (the sound field) that I didn’t latch onto the first time. It’s also one of the few films (short of “The Women”) where I don’t believe there is a single speking part for a male. You barely even see any males onscreen…

  4. Bob – It’s also one of the few films (short of “The Women”) where I don’t believe there is a single speking part for a male.

    Very true! I wish I would have had more time to write about the film but I wanted to get this posted yesterday and it was kind of a rush job. It’s definitely one of the smartest and most interesting feminist films that I’ve seen in recent years.

  5. I saw a trailer for this a couple of months ago and decided I had to see it at some point. Good to hear positive commentary from someone whose opinion I respect.

    I haven’t seen any of Gaspar Noe’s work yet. Irreversible is another of those films I’d like to see at some point.

  6. AR – I’d think you’d find the film really interesting! Noe seems to really divide critics, but I’m personally really fond of his work and I think he’s one of the most interesting directors making films right now.

    Lucile Hadzihalilovic has worked with Noe on most of his films as an editor, etc. but I think she’s really talented in her own right and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

  7. I was thinking I should add this film to my Netflix queue. Then I took some time to look and found that it’s been crawling up the queue for some time! Something to look forward to.

  8. Peter – It’s a fascinating film but it seemed to divide many critics. I find the arguments calling it “child pornography” much more disturbing than the actual film. I’d love to hear what you think of it after you see it.

  9. Glad to read some positive comments on this film! I saw it and loved it, but I could never understand the “child pornography” or “cinema of child exploitation” arguments that I read about it. (I likewise find them more disturbing than the actual film.)

    In addition to the use of sound, I was really astonished by the selective use of bright color against the muted backdrop of the natural world.

  10. I LOVED this film. It’s gorgeous, and it finds pressure points of unease more unerringly than the blunt instruments in all of Gaspar Noe’s film combined. It’s one of my favorite horror films of the aughts.

  11. Alexandra – Your comments about the color are spot-on! I love the saturated look of the film at time combined with occasional bright splashes of color. It’s an amazing looking movie!

    Christianne – I’m glad you’re fond of the film too. I like Noe’s work a lot, but I do agree with you that this film is much more about creating a deep sense of unease within the audience. Noe like to take a jackhammer to his audience, but I think both approaches have their place. It’s definitely one of my favorite films of the decade as well!

  12. I agree with all comments here. “Innocence” is an extraordinary film, and the use of natural sounds is inspired. I appreciate that it never attempts to explain or define its world. We define it for ourselves as viewers.

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