innocence written and directed by Paul Cox, produced by Cox and Mark Patterson, starring Julia Blake, Charles Tingwell, Terry Norris, Robert Menzies and Marta Dusseldorp. An Illumination Films production. An Odeon Films release. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (September 28). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 80. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
movies have a hard time with regret. It's easy to find images to illustrate rage, passion or despair, but regret is harder -- showing someone simply staring into space thinking is too dull. Innocence is one of the best films about regret you'll ever see, because writer/director Paul Cox has reshaped sad, passive remorse into joyous, tender love.
Andreas (Charles Tingwell) and Claire (Julia Blake), who were each other's first loves, meet 50 years later. Andreas is widowed, Claire has been married to the same man for 45 years. They quickly pick up where they left off, rekindling their love affair, much to the dismay of Claire's husband John (Terry Norris).
It's the classic movie love triangle, but the characters are close to 70 and still sexually active. Watching the aged Claire and Andreas caress each other in bed is shocking only because it's an image the movies have kept from us until now. Innocence breaks a taboo that most of us probably didn't even know existed; a wave of shame washed over me as I confronted my own ageism.
Cox (Man Of Flowers, A Woman's Tale) wrote Innocence in three weeks while waiting for the technical difficulties on an IMAX film he was shooting to be resolved. He felt he needed to ground himself with an intimate story whose execution relied not on expensive equipment but, rather, a well-worn human face.
He also wrote with a specific cast in mind. Blake and Tingwell are two of Australia's most respected actors, and it's their luminous performances that take the film to another level.
The dialogue requires the actors to talk about unconditional love, God and faith. These topics have a certain formality that if discussed with any amount of grandiosity could stall the film. Blake and Tingwell deliver their lines with understated, graceful wisdom.
The hardest role in the film belongs to Norris, who plays Claire's dumbstruck husband. (In real life, Norris and Blake have been married for more than 30 years.) He's blind to the fact that he's taken his wife for granted for at least the last 20 years of their marriage.
It's easy to feel scorn for the guy, and Norris plays the part with the necessary macho bravado associated with men of his generation. Yet he's our touchstone, since he represents all of us watching the story unfold -- all of us who may be oblivious to the love that surrounds us, the love we take for granted or refuse to see because of pride or hurt.
Innocence maintains that it's never too late to find love, but its real lesson is that the fears that keep us from embracing love when we're young remain with us no matter how old we grow.
It's those same fears we must confront or risk forsaking love altogether.