Directed by: Paul Cox
Starring: Julia Blake, Charles Tingwell, Terry Norris, Robert Menzies, Marta Dusseldorp
A sometimes surprising, invariably thoughtful film in a minor key, Innocence is slightly less successful than much of what has been said about it would seem to indicate -- something that may or may not be a classic case of confusing the importance and freshness of the subject matter with the importance and freshness of the film itself. For that matter, the question of just how fresh aspects of the subject matter are may be brought into play by anyone who has seen the 1995 British TV film Daisies in December with Joss Ackland and Jean Simmons. In many regards, the concept of an elderly couple's romance is not in itself anything new. What writer-director Paul Cox brings to the concept that is new is a refreshing candor about the sexuality of such a relationship and a storyline that goes somewhat beyond any previous film on the topic. Claire (Julia Blake) and Andreas (Charles Tingwell) were lovers some 40 plus years ago, whose romance fell apart for reasons more suggested than stated. Now in his late 60s, Andreas contacts Claire to see what, if anything, of that love remains. By this point, Andreas is a widower and Claire is being stifled in a mundane marriage that descended into nothing more than habit years ago. The pair are surprised to learn that their old love is very much alive and, despite "common sense" and the conventions of society, rekindle their affair at the ends of their lives. One does not expect a tastefully graphic depiction of a romance between characters nearing 70, but even more unexpected -- and this, I believe, is the key to what sets Innocence apart from any similar films -- is the fact that the characters are allowed to behave very much like giddy lovers in their 20s. The very fact that Claire isn't just willing to throw over her marriage of 44 years to embark on the relationship, but that she can't keep herself from doing so is a pretty remarkable departure from the manner in which twilight romances are generally depicted. The scene where she breathlessly takes Andreas' phone call ("I knew it was you") is daring simply because it depicts a kind of love that we don't associate with the elderly. Most of us realize as we get older that we never actually feel like we're all that different than we were at 21, and that the mantle of age and "acting" our age (it's telling that it's called "acting") is a role forced on us by society and our growing physical limitations. Cox, however, is the first artist I've encountered to actually put this realization forth in dramatic terms. He uses a simple, but effective, device to make his point by frequently cutting to Claire and Andreas (played in flashback by Kristien Van Pellicom and Kenny Aernouts) as they were all those years ago. You know that inside, they aren't all that different from who and what they were then, regardless of the apparent physical changes of aging. Similarly, Cox is savvy enough to give them a complete set of faults and foibles in their later years. They have learned much in the intervening years, but they have not become perfect, nor even especially wise. It's all quite true and it's all a brave attempt that succeeds most of the time. However, the film comes with a built-in weakness in one of its strengths. The concept of giving Claire a living husband (Terry Norris) makes the film more real, but also more awkward, since it necessitates giving his character a bit more screen time than is entirely welcome. Even so, the fact of this character lends further resonance to it all, since the husband, once he goes beyond his original dismissal of what's going on as an expression of Claire's mental instability, provides yet another example of the elderly behaving in a manner no different than the young. His attempts to win back his wife are as wildly wrong-headed as anything a teenager might do, and again you find yourself acknowledging an unspoken truth. It's a beautifully made work -- obviously neither destined for, not aimed at a wide audience -- that has a great deal to say and says most of it with warmth, truth, candor, and an almost complete lack of easy sentimentality.