Innocence, the latest film from Australian writer-director Paul Cox, dispenses with its best moments before the first reel change. Discovering that memories of his first love still sting despite the passage of time, a sixtyish man (Charles Tingwell) writes to the past object of his affection, seeking to renew their acquaintance. As the letter is read on the film's voiceover, the film cuts between footage of Tingwell and a grainy flashback of a lover's idyll played wordlessly by two young actors in mid-century costume. How many memories, after all, survive with dialogue intact? Shortly, his former lover (Julia Blake) responds, and together they discover that the decades have left crucial elements of their relationship unchanged. At first, the intriguing setup is matched nicely by Cox's hazy lyricism, but unlike the two lovers, Cox's film has little to say once it gets down to the business of the relationship itself. As their old flame rekindles, Blake is forced to deal with the disbelief and subsequent frustration of her husband (John Norris), unwaveringly portrayed as a doddering cold fish. It's love versus repression all over again, and the film, not surprisingly, comes down on the side of love. While Cox's subjects are mature, he himself brings little maturity to the film, as he fills the screen with elementary observations about death, God, and time, between wistful shots of a flowing stream. An uncomfortable sex scene which alternates shots of Blake and Tingwell with images of their younger selves might have been intended as life-affirming, but instead has the opposite effect. Perhaps that's what Cox was actually going for. Outside the initial thrill of renewed love, Cox's morbidly reflective characters have little to express but their shared misery and regret. Blake rises above the material, delivering a nice performance even when forced to expel lines like, "Let's go somewhere where we can shed a few tears together." Innocence is about as appealing as that proposal, while offering none of its eventual release.

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