“You’re never too old to become younger”, Mae West once remarked, a sentiment at the heart of this thought-provoking drama by scriptwriter and director Paul Cox. Originally shopped round Hollywood as a project for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Cox felt greater intimacy was needed for his story of desire rekindled in the twilight of life. Choosing small-town Australia as his setting, the director evokes a spatial closeness that is entirely appropriate, both to the long suffocated passions the film exhumes and its urgent couplings claimed before the grave.
Innocence begins with widower Andreas (Charles Tingwell) impulsively contacting Claire (Julia Blake), the woman he had a love affair with some 50 years earlier. Married to the dull-but-worthy John (Terry Norris), she has long abandoned herself to going through the motions of married life, until Andreas’ phone call draws her to dinner, where the two rediscover their attraction to each other. When his wife’s grave gets moved (the cemetery has become valuable real estate), Andreas breaks down and asks Claire to spend the night. When John discovers their affair, it’s all three and the two families who have to deal with the consequences.
Never separating lust from love, Cox intercuts the present day action with dreamy sequences of the young couple discovering each other years ago. This initially adds charge to the present love scenes, but their continued appearances eventually overwhelm their successors. The script is occasionally pretentious in its wordiness and Andreas and Claire are a bit self-satisfied, but the three central performances are terrific. Tingwell gives Andreas an engaging air of desperation in his pursuit of Claire, and the tension between Blake and Norris draws obvious spice from the actors’ real life marriage. Blake is particularly captivating, moving between sober housewife and mother, to girlish seductress and committed adulteress with believable veracity, consistently evoking sympathy.
Innocence flirts with sentimentality, but its ironic title reflects the trauma unearthed by this search for idyllic romance. It raises several uneasy questions, none more so than why mature sexuality is taboo in our society.
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