In December 1945, as American troops were returning home victorious after the close of World War II, Poland was facing a new brutality. Russian soldiers, buoyed by their victory over the German Nazi forces, had taken over the country; and unbeknownst to the Western world, the Russians were engaging in crimes of opportunity. The occupying Soviet troops were raping Polish women on the streets and in their homes, in hospitals and maternity wards, and even in convents.

That terrible story is brought to the big screen in the new Polish/French film “THE INNOCENTS,” which opens on Friday, July 1 in New York and Los Angeles.

“THE INNOCENTS” is reminiscent of the 2005 documentary film “Into Great Silence,” which portrayed the everyday lives of Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery high in the French Alps. Faith is the canvas on which the story is told; but it is overlaid with tragedy and, ultimately, with joy.

Mathilde, a French Red Cross doctor (played by Lou de Laâge), is summoned to a convent where, hidden from the world, she finds a young nun in labor and others in advanced stages of pregnancy.

Innocents - SistersIsolated by their vows, shamed by their condition, the nuns are forced to turn to an unbelieving doctor for help; and each character is shaped by the encounter. The sisters learn to trust and to accept the help that Mathilde offers; the Mother Abbess confronts her terrible secret. And Mathilde is deeply moved by the sisters’ harmonic chant, and comes to understand a little of the grace which beckons them to worship together in prayerful solitude.

While the rape of the innocent sisters is the starting point for the story, it is in caring for the innocents–the babies conceived in rape, and the homeless and hungry youth of the village–that the Sisters are opened to joy. One sister will live her life of love by leaving the order and returning to family life. Others will find fulfillment in service within their community, caring for their children as an expression of their faith. All will look ahead to the future with hope, no longer victims of their horrific circumstances.

“THE INNOCENTS” will leave you pondering its mysteries long after you’ve left the theater. I recommend it highly.