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'Innocence' is a warm, life-affirming look at mature romance

Friday, October 05, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

What if you had the opportunity to rekindle your first and truest love? Would you take it?


RATING: PG-13 in nature for adult marital themes

STARRING: Charles Tingwell, Julia Blake, Terry Norris, Kristine Van Pellicom, Kenny Aernouts




Andreas and Claire would. Wildly in love during their youth, they've been separated by marriages, children and 50 years. Now suddenly reunited, they come face to face with "the last taboo" -- a gentle reawakening of sexuality in old age. But, of course, you can't love so innocently a second time.

Or can you?

Director Paul Cox's "Innocence," considered by many to be the best film at Cannes 2000, has finally been released in the U.S. and is a delicately lovely exploration of "modern" vs. "traditional" love. As if in junior high again, Andreas (Charles Tingwell) finds himself telephoning Claire (Julia Blake) but hanging up when a man answers. The man would be her husband John (Terry Norris).

"I don't know what to tell him," Julia laments. "I'm too old for lies."

Andreas is a highly sensitive retired musician, whose own spouse is long dead. Forced to be present at the late wife's reburial, he breaks down at her grave -- paving the emotional way for reunion with Julia. With subtly beautiful eroticism, Cox gives his lovers -- and us -- flashback glimpses of their young gorgeous selves interspersed with the old (still gorgeous) selves they see in their bathroom mirrors.

But the problem lies less in self-perceptions of their own aging than in the perceptions of others -- starting with their own families. To Julia's stiff fuddy-duddy hubby, "She's simply off her head!" To herself, she has always done the "right" -- meaning comfortable -- thing, always been able "to obey the rules and deny the things that really matter."

Until now.

In director Cox's view, "There is an enormous sense of loss traveling with us, and we are instinctively in tune with it. When we realize this, we know we must live a little."

We realize this when we view the brilliant trio of performances by Tingwell ("Breaker Morant"), who looks like Herbert Marshall but is twice the actor; by Blake ("My Brilliant Career") as Claire -- such a beautiful character name; and by tragicomic old Norris (Blake's real-life husband of 38 years!). They are the Aussie answers to Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and John Gielgud.

Kristine Van Pellicom and Kenny Aernouts as the younger Claire and Andreas are likewise fine.

"You're a wonderful child," Andreas tells his daughter.

"You're a wonderful child, too," she replies.

"Innocence" is Cox's 18th feature film (most memorable: his superb "A Woman's Tale" of 1991), and he is not as well known as he should be. Neither is the South Australian Film Corporation, whose studios I recently visited and whose film output is of astonishingly high quality. "Innocence" was shot in and around South Australia's splendid capital city, Adelaide, a superior and unsung locale by comparison with better-known Sydney and Melbourne. The key word for this film, in addition to Innocence, is Intelligence -- particularly of the script, which Cox wrote. In one of its best moments, a minister asks the ailing Andreas, "Don't you believe in God?"

"I wish the word God didn't exist," he gently replies. "If God were called Beauty or Love, I'd believe in Him." And then adds, as a wry afterthought: "When I get to the other side, I'll send you a fax, or maybe an e-mail -- it's cheaper."

"Innocence" flirts with becoming a tearjerker but stops short of such disaster, ending up a tremendously honest, powerful film for anyone who ever wished for a second chance at first love. There are a million things working against such a thing -- money, religion, social mores mistaken for "morals." It rarely happens in real life. Personally, I know of only one instance.

"Love becomes more real the closer it comes to death," muses Andreas. "What really matters in life is love. Everything else is rubbish."

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