It’s certainly refreshing to see a love story on the screen that involves a man and woman over the age of twenty-five. To be sure, a guy like Warren Beatty, who’s obviously getting on in years, occasionally shows up in romantic roles, but very few others of like age do. On those grounds alone, people may well welcome Australian Paul Cox’s new film: “Innocence” is a discreet, restrained portrait of an affair between Andreas Borg (Charles Tingwell), a widower and retired organist, an Claire (Julia Blake), the wife for forty-five years of John (Terry Norris), a man who’s affectionate enough but has come to take her decidedly for granted (and who, it’s clear, hasn’t always been entirely faithful). Andreas and Claire had enjoyed a passionate relationship as youngsters some five decades earlier, and now he contacts her. Before long they’ve rekindled their love, and Claire is torn between her feeling for Andeas and loyalty to John, who’s unable to understand her turmoil.
All of this is different enough from the usual run of scripts to warrant more than passing interest, and it would be nice to say that the execution was equal to the idea. Unhappily, it isn’t. “Innocence” is slow, talky, and, in its final act, more than a little maudlin; is rather like a decorous soap opera, which seems a contradiction in terms. The dialogue is arch and cliched more often than not, with Andreas in particular given to verbiage that’s apparently meant to be profound but comes across more like simple-minded commonplaces; and the fact that it’s all delivered in clipped Australian accents curiously makes it sound all the more artificial–the whole stiff-upper-lip atmosphere eventually becomes almost comical. To make matters worse, Cox cuts periodically to shots of the young Andreas and Claire gamboling about in fields and organ lofts; one supposes these are intended to have a nostalgic glow, but they possess little or no resonance, and eventually grow intrusive. In the third act, moreover, “Innocence” slips into disease-of-the-week territory, although in a fashion different from what one might at first expect. That strongly resembles afternoon TV drama, too.
As the oldsters rekindling their affection for one another, Tingwell and Blake do a fair job, apart from an occasional stilted or awkward moment and Cox’s penchant for overly long takes–understandable given some of the writing they have to contend with. Norris is good as well; it isn’t his fault that he looks very much like the late Edward Everett Horton, a fact that militates against our taking the character completely seriously. No one else in the cast is around long enough to make much of an impression.
In one of the more revealing and, as it turns out, accurate moments of ham-fisted reverie in “Innocence,” Andreas sagely observes to his daughter, “Do you know what’s really importantly in life? Love.” Then he adds: “Everything else is just rubbish.” Including this movie.