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French period drama ‘The Innocents’ makes for tough but rewarding viewing

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The Innocents

Three stars

The Innocents Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne. Directed by Anne Fontaine. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday at Regal Village Square.

For French Red Cross volunteer Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge), working in Poland just after the end of World War II, the discovery that multiple nuns in the convent just outside the town where she’s stationed have been forcibly impregnated by Russian soldiers is horrifying, and the horrors of the situation only grow as she learns more and gets more involved. Mathilde’s appalled reaction mirrors the audience’s, watching the events of French filmmaker Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents unfold, and it’s Mathilde’s integrity, warmth and conviction that make this bleak movie a little less difficult to watch.

It’s also de Laâge’s excellent performance that keeps the movie from just becoming a parade of misery, as Mathilde faces both religious dogma (from the convent’s strict abbess) and bureaucratic red tape (from her commanding officer) standing in the way of giving these women (and their babies, which end up being born in quick succession) the medical care they need. Some of those obstacles get a bit repetitive, and Fontaine and her co-writers eventually reveal so much awfulness that it feels excessive (although the movie is based on true events). Still, even the most unpleasant aspects of the story are presented with beautiful cinematography and stirring emotions, and the movie finds some hope in its characters’ ordeal by the end. Getting there isn’t easy, for the characters or the viewer, but it’s worth the effort.

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