In December 1945, a young French Red Cross medical student, Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge), is sent to Poland as part of a medical mission to assist the survivors of the war. She is approached by a Polish nun who pleads with Mathilde to come with her. Unable to understand what she is saying Mathilde advises her to go the Polish Red Cross for assistance.
Hours later, after finishing with a surgery, Mathilde sees the nun outside praying. Mathilde decides to go with the nun to her convent, where she is taken to a young woman who is in labour. The nuns tell her the woman has been cast out by her family for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Realizing it is a breech birth, Mathilde successfully performs an emergency caesarean. Though the majority of the nuns, including the Mother Superior are cold and unfriendly, Mathilde obtains permission to come again the following day to treat the new mother.
Upon her return she learns that the young baby has been taken away to be given to the mother's family. She also sees a nun faint and realizes, to her surprise, that the nun is pregnant. Sister Maria, a bilingual nun who is able to communicate with Mathilde in French, informs her that there are a total of 7 nuns who are pregnant after being raped by Soviet soldiers multiple times over several days. Mathilde wants to ask her fellow Red Cross workers for help dealing with the women, but after she finally obtains the Mother Superior's permission to examine the nuns she learns that it will only be permitted if she is the only one who knows.
Mathilde examines her patients but has intense difficulty as the nuns suffer from PTSD because of their rapes, and additionally many of them see being touched at all as a sin. After a difficult first attempt at examining her patients Mathilde tries to return back to the Red Cross camp only to be stopped by Soviet soldiers who attempt to rape her. When their commander hears her screams he orders his men off her and lets her go. She returns to the convent where the nuns harbour her for the night. Returning to the Red Cross in the morning she is berated for taking the car she used to travel to the convent. Mathilde stays silent about where she has been going, and continues her mission by travelling to and from the convent by bicycle.
At one point when Mathilde is with the women the Soviet soldiers again return. Mathilde is able to get them to leave by claiming that the convent is quarantined due to an outbreak of typhus. Mathilde's quick thinking earns her the begrudging respect of the Mother Superior and the gratitude of the nuns. Meanwhile another nun, whom no one had previously known was pregnant, abruptly gives birth. Mathilde asks Sister Maria's help in keeping news of the birth away from Mother Superior in order to give the child enough time to grow strong before it is given away to be adopted. As the child's mother is still in a state of shock and has rejected the baby, Mathilde brings the child to Zofia (the first nun to give birth) who eagerly takes care of the baby, breastfeeding her and deciding to baptize her Helena.
Mathilde receives an emergency call from Sister Maria informing her that two of the nuns are giving birth at the same time. She enlists the aid of Samuel, her co-worker and lover, to come with her. A Jew whose entire family has been killed in the war, Samuel has complicated feelings towards the nuns as they are part of the Poland that turned its back on the Jews. However he agrees to help them and the nuns in turn reluctantly trust him despite their wariness around men. Mathilde and Samuel are able to successfully deliver the children.
However during the dual labours, Mother Superior finds out about Helena and takes her away, ostensibly to be adopted. Zofia sees the Mother Superior and tries to follow her, becoming lost in the woods. Realizing that the Mother Superior has not been giving the children away to be adopted but is killing them instead, Zofia commits suicide. After her death Sister Maria finds a pair of knit booties Sister Zofia made for her child. She makes the trek to the home of Zofia's only remaining relative to give her the news of Zofia's death and bring the booties to the child, but upon her arrival she realizes that Zofia's aunt knows nothing about any baby.
Realizing the children are unsafe with the Mother Superior, Sister Maria and Sister Anna, along with three of the newborns, make their way to the Red Cross, where they take shelter. Mathilde urges them to return to the convent, bringing with her several of the orphaned children who spend their time around the Red Cross. She urges the convent to accept all the children as the orphaned Polish children will cloak the arrival of so many newborns and the sisters will be able to raise their children without shame. All the nuns learn that Mother Superior has been murdering the infants and react with horror and anger.
Six months later the convent is a much happier place. The novice nuns finally take their vows after a long delay due to the war. The older children are happy in their new home. Together the nuns pose with their newborn infants and send the picture to Mathilde along with a letter in which they thank her for what she did for them.
Director(s): Anne Fontaine
Producer(s): Éric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Philippe Carcassonne
Starring(s): Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Thomas Coumans, Joanna Kulig, Katarzyna Dąbrowska
Music by: Grégoire Hetzel
Story by: Sabrina B. Karine, Pascal Bonitzer, Anne Fontaine, Alice Vial based on an original concept by Philippe Maynial
Screenplay by: Sabrina B. Karine, Pascal Bonitzer, Anne Fontaine, Alice Vial
Edited by: Annette Dutertre
Cinematography: Caroline Champetier
Release Date: 11 Nov 2016
Other Release Date / Place: 26 Jan 2016 / Sundance
Language(s): French, Polish, Dutch, Rissian
Country: France, Poland, Belgium
Film Industry: French, Polish, Dutch
Banner / Studio: Aeroplan Film, France 2 Cinéma, Mandarin Cinéma, Mars Films, Scope Pictures
Distributed by: Mars Distribution