I went to see Innocence by Lucile Hadzihalilovic at the local film festival, when it was playing, and I was enthralled. It was set in a boarding school for girls, but instead of getting an education there, the girls were being prepared for their role in the patriarchal society. It wasn’t as straightforward as that, but that was the allegory. The film has an oppressive atmosphere that is present everywhere, although you can never quite catch the cause of it. Seemingly mundane and innocent things happen on screen, but you feel like something really bad is going on. You expect the feeling to turn into something violent at any moment, but it never does.
As a child growing up, you are expected to accept many things without an explanation. In certain situations, that can feel oppressive and even threatening. Many of those things directly affect you, but you are still expected to just nod and accept them without any understanding of what is really happening. The film depicts young girls being molded into young women fitting into the role reserved for them by the patriarchal society without the girls understanding what is happening. The atmosphere makes you feel it through their experience – you don’t understand what is happening, but you have a feeling that it is something bad.
My head still spins at the way the film is put together. Naturally, I was disappointed, when I missed Hadzihalilovic’s follow up, Évolution, in a later edition of the same local film festival. Later I jumped at the chance, when I saw that Orion was playing it as their film of the month.
Èvolution takes the exact same point of view as Innocence. The film is about girls growing up in a world, where they don’t understand things happening to them, and they experience said things as threatening. This time around, it is not molding them into their role as women in patriarchal society, but about puberty – them turning physically from girls into women capable of birth.
Just as with Innocence, it is quite difficult to wrap your head around everything that is happening in Évolution. I went and read a bunch of reviews about the film, when I was thinking about what to write about the film in this blog. Even most of the positive ones seemed to conclude that in the end this film won’t give up its secrets and you just have to accept it as an enthralling but impenetrable piece. I don’t agree.
This time around Hadzihalilovic just fudges things up a bit more in her allegories. The girls are boys on screen. The adults are all depicted as red haired women with blank and bleached faces that have some alien things on their backs. Sex is a weird ritual performed hidden from the eyes of the girls. Menstruating is a horrifying disease nobody tells you about. And finally birth is some parasite sucking you dry.
In Innocence, you could mostly trust, that if you were seeing a woman on screen, it was a pretty identical woman, when interpreted through the allegory of the film. Here you can’t trust that anymore, but with a bit more work everything still becomes clear. I assume that the allegory shows in more physical and thus more visual ways here, because the change being depicted is more physical and visual, than it was in Innocence.
My head spins again. How can you build such an experience on screen with such acuity. Nothing is what it looks like, because everything is experienced through the eyes of someone, who does not understand anything about what is happening, but when you finally catch up with it, it all makes sense, but doesn’t reduce from what you just experienced. Hadzihalilovic is truly a genius director and I will be certain to keep up with her future works.
Just see this film. Don’t give up on it. Sit through it and concentrate. Spend time on it afterwards. When it finally opens up to you, wonder at the way it is put together, wonder at the way everything seems to perfectly fit together like a beautiful puzzle. The thing is, it doesn’t end there, it isn’t just a magically perfect piece of film making genius. It is also a film, that tells a very strong story. The story is rarely told, although it is very important. It teaches you about humanity. I feel kind of embarrassed at this point by the praise I’m heaping on this film, but the thing is, I have one final piece of it – the weird way the film is put together is there not just because Hadzihalilovic can do it, it’s there because it supports the story she is telling. Just see this film.
- Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
- Watched on: 17th Feb 2017
- Watched at: Orion