Thursday, August 10, 2006

2005 in review: #3

3. Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

B-side: Pride & Prejudice (Joe Wright)

The relatively large amount of independence and social mobility of modern women is, we shouldn’t forget, a fairly recent development. For much of recorded history, the roles of women were limited, and once a woman was placed into one they were generally stuck there for the rest of her life. Even an iconic figure such as Jane Austen found a measure of freedom only through her writings, in which she chronicled the lifestyle she knew all too well while also commenting wryly upon its conventions, no doubt taking pleasure in the opportunity to stand outside them for a change.

Austen’s most celebrated novel, PRIDE & PREJUDICE, has been adapted numerous times over the years, but the 2005 version has an undeniable freshness to it. It’s not without its flaws, to be sure- any 2 hour distillation of the material is bound to leave something by the wayside- but it’s also highly entertaining and surprisingly cinematic. Keira Knightley makes Lizzie a shade too contemporary for my taste, but perhaps that’s the point- she doesn’t quite fit in with the rest due to her nature. Of course, the art direction is impeccable, but more surprising is that the characters actually seem to dwell in their surroundings, instead of feeling like actors who were made up and marched onto the sets every morning. If nothing else, this latest rendering of Austen’s classic shows us that the Colin Firth miniseries is hardly the final word on the subject.

The girls of INNOCENCE are much younger than those in PRIDE & PREJUDICE, and if anything their options are even more limited. The film is set in a mysterious boarding school for girls between the ages of six and twelve. They are only taught two subjects (dance and science), and are never permitted to leave the premises. INNOCENCE is compelling on a symbolic level, as a representation of what it means to grow up as a girl, but what really impresses are the purely cinematic aspects of the film. Hadzihalilovic, the professional and romantic partner of IRREVERSIBLE director Gaspar Noé, is a gifted filmmaker in her own right, and from the very first scene she creates a world so unique and hypnotic that it feels more than a little reductive to try to puzzle out what everything means.

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