I'm sure some other writers out there can relate to this. You write something you perceive to be genuine, filled with startling details unique to your view of the world. No one else could tap into your one-of-a-kind perceptions, your fresh angle and profound voice.
Until they do. Only better.
My graduation requirements proposed that I write a feature length screenplay. Mine was entitled Innocents and it was the story of a young girl's loss of innocence by way of eerie ambiance and a metaphorical woodland setting. You know, pretentious, moody arthouse stuff only dreamt up by film students and later discarded by studio script readers.
Imagine my surprise upon the day of its proud completion -- and turning it in for course credit -- when I flip the pages of "Sight and Sound" and see this: Innocence, a just released French feature by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, about the loss of innocence by way of eerie ambiance and a metaphorical woodland setting...!
I was shocked, irritated, and I was hoping my graduate professors didn't subscribe to "Sight and Sound." But the most grating thing? I wanted desperately to see the film because, hell, it looked right up my alley.
Well it's years later and new ideas have surfaced, so I was finally ready to shed the past and give into THE film that had unknowingly stumbled into creative theft. Now, strange but mild similarities aside, I begrudgingly say Innocence is a sublime piece of work. If it were an American product, I might still hold a bitter, superior grudge. But the French? They know how to enthrall and repel audiences in equal measure, and they know how to make a film that only 10% of audiences would possibly care to see.
Thus Innocence comes with my most sour but sincere recommendation. It's a metaphorical evocation of childhood that's as mysterious, eerie and dreamlike as... childhood, appropriately. A young girl named Iris inexplicably arrives (by way of a small coffin) at an all girl's school residing deep in the forest. The girls live in five separate houses and are assigned different colored ribbons to wear in their hair -- a way to delineate their age. They attend courses on nature and study dance, but so many questions remain: What happens when the girls reach a certain age? Why mustn't the girls leave the park? What are the ominous passageways that run beneath the forest?
Not unlike Picnic at Hanging Rock, it's filled with haunting, meditative images and stirring atmosphere, not to mention a thematically brilliant ending that adds some unexpected weight. It's lyrical, mystifying, and (dammit!) so much better than anything I'd written.
I still wish I got royalties, as undeserved as they would be... but if anyone got to realize the idea for the big screen, I'm glad it was a French female arthouse director, and I'm glad she has a last name no one can pronounce.