[Written for Reel.com]
Innocence, Paul Cox’s paean to the power of love opens on a boy and a girl biking down a country path, so magnetized by their young lust they must hold hands even as they ride. She’s blooming, dressed in richest blue and red; as they kiss hungrily on a bridge, she anchors her hand on a metal floodgate wheel. The camera lowers, to show that the stream’s current can’t be stemmed. It flows swiftly onward, its movement — echoed by the accelerating train that soon separates them — wiping away their youth. Forty years, two marriages, and several children later, Rose (Julia Blake) and Andreas (Charles Tingwell) reunite and find they’ve fallen in love a second time, not as old, fading folk but as continuations of the joyful boy and girl they once were. Cox visually makes an eternal Nowness for these four characters, mixing memory and present rediscovery, lovemaking in the woods and in a home filled with the accumulated treasures of a lifetime, ripe and fallen flesh.
There’s no sentimental coyness here, no false, feel-good, Hollywoodized “aren’t old people cute when they try to get sexy?” offensiveness. Cox gives us two fully realized human beings, who share grown-up, hard-won wisdom — in literate conversation yet — about living for decades in an un-nourishing but solid marriage, about the way aging people can’t look at a face “without seeing the skull,” about the way life becomes more “real” the closer one comes to its denouement. Rose’s shattered husband (Terry Norris) and wise son, Andreas’s instantly empathic daughter — each is warmed in his/her fashion at the hearth of this late-burning passion.
There are wonderful images to take away from Innocence: when Andreas’s wife is disinterred (the cemetery’s “prime real estate” now), the sight of her sad bones sets off flashes of her swelling breast, long hair and animate arm half-buried in soil, then contained within a coffin’s white satin. At a dinner party, her bereft husband smiles, registering surprise, as Rose uncharacteristically fires off a raunchy joke (suffice it to say the punchline concerns a vaginal vase!). The colors of red and blue punctuate the film: blue for the innocence of virginity, of brand-newness; red for the bloodstream in full spate, the ripe harvest of full, unblighted lives. Take my word for it, looking into the seasoned faces of Rose and Andreas, you’ll savor more radiance and sensuality than a dozen Brad Pitts and Gwyneth Paltrows could ever deliver.