After struggling to get his Belgian production “Father Damien” released in his own version, Paul Cox has returned to Australia and to more typical material with “Innocence,” an aptly titled and gentle film that incorporates themes to be found in his first success, “Lonely Hearts” (1982), and in one of his most celebrated works, “A Woman’s Tale” (1991). Like those films, “Innocence” deals with late-flowering love and old age, and the director’s sensitivity shines through the material. Pic should be a fest favorite, with select distribution indicated in many territories.
Claire and Andreas were lovers in Belgium soon after the war; now, 45 years later, Melbourne resident Andreas (Charles Tingwell), a widower for 30 years, discovers that he and Claire (Julia Blake) live in the same city. He writes to her, they meet, and although she’s happily, if not passionately, married to John (Terry Norris), the former lovers resume a passionate sexual relationship, to the dismay of their nearest and dearest.
Cox tells this sweet, at times disturbing, love story in a leisurely fashion, drawing unaffected performances from his actors. Admirers of the director’s work will recognize the heartfelt nature of the material; typical of Cox’s philosophy is such dialogue as “The only way to be happy is to love — those who think that’s naive are wrong.” In one scene, Claire watches “A Woman’s Tale” on TV, a reminder that Cox has touched on these themes before and doubtless will again.
Over the years, the somewhat sentimental Andreas has never forgotten Claire’s youth, her smile, her innocence. When he sees her again, he tells her she hasn’t changed. “Of course I’ve changed,” replies the more practical Claire, who feels she’s too old now to hurt her husband (with whom she hasn’t had sex in 20 years) and the other people who love her. Yet she becomes frustrated with John’s incredulity at the very idea that she might have an affair, and then exasperated when he tries to stop her.Like most of Cox’s characters, Andreas is a man who admits to having shared “a lot of lust” over the years, and though he’s now well into his 70s, and not in the best of health, the spark is quickly reawakened with Claire. Cox intercuts between footage of the lovers enjoying sex in the past and in the present, having earlier intercut between the young Claire (Kristine van Pellicom) examining her face in a mirror and the old Claire doing the same.
Innocence is a powerful subtext here; when Andreas tells his supportive, practical daughter (nicely portrayed by Marta Dusseldorp) that “you’re a wonderful child,” she replies dryly, “You’re a wonderful child, too.”The role of Andreas was originally written for Cox regular Norman Kaye, but illness forced Kaye into a minor, though effective, supporting role; vet actor Tingwell confidently steps into his shoes. Blake radiates good sense mingled with passion as the sensible, willful Claire. A new cinematographer, Tony Clark, and some new faces among the supporting players are in evidence as well. Still, longtime regular Chris Haywood is back, playing a priest with whom Andreas can argue about the nature of God.
In the final reel, Cox springs something of a surprise on the audience as this tale of love and acceptance of death moves to a calm conclusion.Relatively modest production is professionally made in every department. Cox himself makes his usual cameo appearance, seen crossing a street smoking a pipe.