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The Innocents

Polish nuns, who suffered violent assaults during the war, find redemption through kindness

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Anne Fontaine’s historical drama focuses on a brutal consequence of war (even in these modern days) that is rarely explored in any emotional detail: the rape of civilian women by conquering soldiers. This film, inspired by real events, takes place in Poland in December 1945. There, a young French female doctor, Mathilde (Lou de Laâge), is working with the French Red Cross, patching up and repatriating French soldiers after the war. Late one night, she is begged by a Polish nun named Maria (Agata Buzek) to come to the rural convent, where another nun is giving birth. Mathilde learns that upon “liberating” Poland nine months ago, Russian soldiers repeatedly raped the nuns; six others are due to deliver.

So begins a period of charitable transgression by both women: Mathilde is to work only with the French, and the convent forbids all visitors. Additionally, the nuns live in a highly spiritual cloistered state, and there is a real challenge in breaking through their shame, guilt and collective horror: The world has intruded, and in the ugliest manner possible. Maria, who is modern and non-religious, finds her own philosophies about spirituality challenged.

The subject matter is tough, though never unwatchable. Ultimately, the take-away from this beautifully filmed and well-acted work is a quietly inspirational story of resilience, forgiveness and forged sisterhood that underscores the shared humanity between these unlikely parties.


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