Film Review: The Innocence – Visionär Film Festival

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Writers: Laia Soler and Lucia Alemany

Director: Lucia Alemany

Directed by Lucia Alemany, The Innocence is the story of Lis, a young Spanish girl whose dreams are at odds with her highly conventional upbringing.

Lis (Carmen Arrufat) is 15 years old and friends with Sara (Estelle Orient) and Rocio (Laura Fernandez). The girls are introduced to us, sat atop a water tanker, driving through their small town. Laughing, boisterous, they are revelling in the anarchy of the moment. While Rocio considers herself pretty much grown up, Lis and Sara are hanging onto the last days of their childhood, zipping around on skateboards. Lis is also a talented athlete, wanting to develop her acrobat skills at a specialist school in Barcelona.

As they sit by a swimming pool during a long, hot summer, talk turns to boys. The hierarchy within the group announces itself as the more dominant Rocio gossips about another girl. She then turns to Lis, teasingly accusing her of having an older boyfriend. Lis refuses to give Rocio any details.

In a town where gossip is life, Lis knows to hide her (predictably dodgy) boyfriend. Nestor, played by Joel Bosqued, may impress a young girl like Lis, but his wheeler-dealer life is not compatible with her aspirations. As their relationship develops, the kind of girlfriend Nestor prefers – sexy, compliant – means Lis has to subjugate herself.

The Innocence, as much as it discusses the transition from childhood to adolescence, is also an examination of the standards placed on girls, in particular within a traditional, conservative Spanish culture. In their script, Alemany and Laia Soler lay out for us the complex world Lis inhabits. Not only is there family pressure to conform and be a good girl (modest, obedient, virginal), there is real concern about appearing respectable in front of the neighbours. The terror of being ‘caught out’ is compounded by the knowledge that everyone is watching everyone else.

Alemany’s depiction of the patriarchal hold is tremendously adept. The layers of oppression (from Lis’ bullying father Catalano storming through another family meal, to Lis being coerced into sexual activity) give the film a deeply claustrophobic feel. Interiors such as the nightclub Nestor takes Lis to, are viewed through her eyes. The lights, the thumping music – it’s all too much, too soon.

The Innocence relies on its performances, and as Lis, Carmen Arrufat articulates the vulnerability and tenacity of the teenager. Playing her father, Sergi Lopez’s Catalano is excellent – he draws on a bullish archetype, but doesn’t stop there. The frustration we feel watching his scenes are echoed by the character himself.

While it could be argued that The Innocence is underplayed, Alemany’s decision in going for detail, rather than broad strokes, really works in the telling of this story. Through the oppression, Alemany finds an intimacy that lets us feel connected to these characters. It may not be the most outwardly ambitious debut, but The Innocence takes aim at cultural and generational divides, challenging the perspective that either is immovable.

The Innocence is screening at the Visionär Film Festival, Berlin on 14 November.

The Reviews Hub Score

A strong debut

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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