I happened upon this film on YouTube last week and rented it from Netflix.
This is a film about an exclusive private boarding ballet school in an English speaking country that could nevertheless be, and most likely is, found in many nations of the world, especially the Russian Federation, where people are passionate about ballet as they are nowhere else. The cost of educating and training this small group of girls in the basic academic arts and dance is offset by the revenues of recitals the girls put on periodically at an old opera house nearby. Since the fate of the school is tied completely to the success of the recitals, the shows must please their demanding audiences: the girls must not only dance perfectly but look like angels, maintaining perfect figures dressed in white. They are permitted to roam the extensive grounds of their school so long as they do not leave.
That ballet companies can be unforgiving with the rare people suited to their art and that the perfectionism demanded by many dance teachers has driven many students to depression, anorexia, and suicide are cliches. The girls at this school know they cannot leave, so they do not dwell on the injustices meted out by their teachers, but all but the most beautiful and successful entertain fantasies about leaving that often surface as nightmares. Those who act out these fantasies meet differing outcomes.
Although sequestering girls away from males may be necessary to to enable some of them to dance without embarrassment or fear, it is the rare girl that is willing to forego knowledge for the privilege. When the girls run away, it is with the audience's understanding and approval. The prettiest and most talented, on the other hand, find protection at the school and become the school's leaders, knowing they are too young to handle the many attentions of boys they would be sure to meet "outside". When they finally undergo puberty, these "survivors" are taken to the nearby city and neatly deposited at a city fountain, where their unselfconscious willingness to splash in white dresses up to their underwear inevitably draws the attention of boys nearby, who will now teach them about love at precisely the moment when love is most magical and sublime. The system works, but only for the elite: those patient enough to wait out the long ordeal.
Let's be as clear about the film as the film is trying to be clear about girls: This movie is not pornography by any stretch. There is no nudity or sex whatsoever, and shots of girls dressing for ballet or playing on the lawn lack all manner of prurience. This is a film about what it feels like to be a girl on the cusp of adolescence, before hormones make them "boy crazy". What it feels like, more than anything else, is warm and scared and companionable. There are, in fact, no males on this campus, nor need there be, since the film makes clear that girls of this age do not understand sexual differentiation and, what's more, do not care to.
"Innocence" often drags, much as childhood often drags, but it is a visually beautiful film united by a handful of appropriate motifs, water for libido, snow for chastity and purity, rare color for the few reminders of time and aging the girls live with. A riveting film it is not; a sincere and sometimes clinical exploration of feminine coming of age it most certainly is, with the appeal of music and ballet thrown in.
BTW there is really only one fantastic aspect in the film, but it is easily explained and completely in agreement with the film's theme: the girls leave and arrive in coffins. In light of the above it should be obvious what this conceit means: these girls must be "dead" to the sexuality within them for as long as they remain there; their sexuality is directed not to members of the opposite gender but to their ballet's audience. This sexual numbness may be especially common to children raised only among members of their own sex. In its celebration of the grace and beauty of youth, "Innocence" calls for a new era of sublimation of youthful sexual energies, specifically dance, while acknowledging that such sublimation may be impossible and even undesirable for all but the most beautiful and talented of young people among us.