Intriguing, alluring. Perplexing, vexing. All the things a girl wants to be. How appropriate that Innocence, a haunting study of girlhood, is all of these too. Seven year old Iris emerges from an air-holed coffin to find herself in a strange boarding school for girls set deep in a forest. Forbidden to leave – or escape – Iris' journey to what it’s all about is our journey too. Recalling Shyamalan’s The Village, director Hadzihalilovic builds up a greater unease and foreboding but eschews narrative structure or plot - let alone twists - revealing an altogether more original intent. A universe unto itself, Innocence conjures through images, sounds and the natural reactions of the non-professional girls.
Dark and bright woods, lamp-lit forest paths, wet underground tunnels, ticking clocks. Hinting at pubescence and gynaecological growth, Innocence feels its way into the mysterious mind and senses of girls changing into women. A shot of a chrysalis becoming a butterfly is the most unambiguous image. The girls, schooled in ballet, are given butterfly wings as they pirouette in front of blacked-out theatre stalls. But who’s watching? Without any male characters, maleness is present only as the unnerving ‘other’ beyond the walls and woods. Innocence captures the momentous transition as girls cease to live in their own world and realize that their personalities and bodies are meant to be joined to another’s. To Hadzihalilovic, it’s both a horror and a thrill.
Hardy-esque, nature is sensuous. Confines, fears and selfhood are painted not performed. A biological film, Innocence also digs deep into the psyche. It’s not just the girls’ innocence on show – it’s ours, male or female. Extended scenes of young girls swimming or playing are there to provoke a reaction. Recollection for women? Discomfort for men? Ambiguity abounds.
An undeniably precocious talent. A mysterious film.