Australia, present day. Andreas Borg (Charles Tingwell), a widower, is a retired organist and music teacher. In the same city (unnamed, though the film was shot in Adelaide), he discovers is Claire (Julia Blake) a woman with whom he had a passionate affair while students in Brussels fifty years before. Claire is now married to John (Terry Norris) and a grandmother. Hesitantly, they agree to meet again and discover that their love for each other is still very much present.
Although he made his first feature in 1974, Paul Cox first came to the attention of British filmgoers in the early 1980s with Man of Flowers and Lonely Hearts, the first of his films to be distributed in the UK. However, he seems to have fallen out of fashion, as 1989's Golden Braid was the last Cox film to date to have a British release. This is undoubtedly Britain's loss: he has continued to make films, and Innocence is up there with his very best. It's one of Cox's less quirky films, being on the surface a straightforward love story. Love and sexuality amongst the elderly is something of a taboo subject, but Cox and his actors tackle it with such sensitivity that very few will take offence. As in previous films, Cox journeys into his characters' inner lives, with dreams and flashbacks shot on 16mm, the grain adding to the sense of transient, poignant memories. Tony Clark's camerawork and Paul Grabowsky's score contribute greatly.
His actors have to take a lot of the credit. Tingwell (usually known as Charles "Bud" Tingwell) is a fifty-year veteran who rarely has had such a good role as this, which features what he claims as his first-ever love scene. Considering the subject matter, it was brave of Blake and Norris to play these parts, as the two actors are married in real life. Robert Menzies gives capable support as Claire and John's son and Martta Dusseldorp has less to do as Andreas's daughter, but the film belongs to the three leads, who have a combined age of over 200. Cox gives himself a cameo as a man crossing a railway track.
Madman is an independent Australian label who, on this evidence, will be well worth checking out. (Dave Foster has reviewed some of their anime releases.) Innocence is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 1.85:1. This really is an excellent picture, with strong colours and solid blacks. The only noticeable grain is meant to be there (in the dream/flashback sequences). The picture isn't anamorphic, though I'm not sure whether widescreen enhancement would make much difference as this is as good as non-anamorphic PAL gets.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround. This is very much a dialogue-dependent film; Cox has never been a director to go in for needless, and distracting, flashiness. The surrounds are rarely used, most notably a bird breaking into flight during a dream sequence. The dialogue is clearly recorded, and the actors' accents won't cause much problem to non-Australians. However, there still should have been subtitles: for the benefit of the hard-of-hearing and non-native English speakers, and to follow the dialogue while the commentary track is playing.
The extras lift this DVD almost into the Criterion class. Their layout is unusual in that each cast or crewmember gets a submenu to him/herself. There are detailed biographies and filmographies for the three lead actors, Cox and composer Paul Grabowsky. In addition, Grabowsky's section includes a sample/advertisement for the soundtrack CD.
The commentary is a double act between Cox and Grabowsky. Most of the time Cox is talking with Grabowsky acting as feed. There's a section early on, when Cox lays into the only critic to slate the film, which has a lot of bleeping out, including the name of the critic! It's a good commentary without quite the edge to make it an outstanding one. Cox's filmography includes brief text summaries and, in four cases, trailers as well. The Innocence trailer has its own link from the "press kit" submenu; the other four trailers are for Lonely Hearts, Island, A Woman's Tale and Lust and Revenge and certainly make me long for DVDs of these films (the latter two I haven't seen). All of these trailers are full-frame. In addition, the DVD includes an early, and quite rare, 22-minute Cox short, We Are All Alone My Dear. Set in an old-people's home, it is presumably included due to its similarity in subject matter. Shot in 16mm, its picture quality is not good at all: very grainy, with plenty of artefacts and poor shadow detail. Still, it's nice to have, especially for Cox fans.
The interviews are all presented in a small window in centre screen. These are much more detailed and considered than the usual electronic presskit fluff, as the running times will indicate: Cox (22:54), producer Mark Patterson (5:49), Tingwell (9:29), Blake (11:56), Norris (9:04) and Grabowsky (9:15).
The press kit submenu includes a list of awards that Innocence has won – a lot. There are also twenty-six pages of text reprinting the reviews that the film received. The stills gallery consists of eighteen thumbnails (six to a page) which can be selected individually from the menu. Finally, there is footage from the 2000 IF (Independent Film) Awards, which runs 4:58. "Madman Propaganda" comprises six trailers for forthcoming DVDs: Beau travail, Rosetta, A ma soeur, Shadow of the Vampire and the Australian productions The Monkey's Mask and Mullet. The trailers are selectable from a row of thumbnails, though oddly the A ma soeur thumbnail plays the Rosetta trailer, and vice versa. The first four are or will be available in R2 from other companies; on the basis of this DVD, Madman's edition might well be strong alternative choices.
Paul Cox's current critical and commercial neglect in Britain is our loss. Innocence is a gem, a beautifully made and acted study of love in old age that will engage those who see it. Madman's DVD edition is an excellent package, and I look forward to more from both Cox and this distributor.