Bruno Dumont’s most accessible film to date


on December 20, 2010 by Barbara Goslawski

The story of a young girl's spiritual devotion and the distorted manifestations of faith that follow, Hadewijch maintains the cool reserve that has made director Bruno Dumont famous. As in L'Humanité and Twentynine Palms, the director presents a cogent study of emotional excess with a sure handed control that harkens back to Robert Bresson. Winner of the FIPRESCI Critics' prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, Hadewijch will charm the arthouse crowd and then some. It will no doubt spark some heated discussions.

Céline is a young novice in a convent. Her religious passion is startling, even to the older nuns. She denies herself not only simple pleasures but also daily necessities such as food. Praying is her only indulgence in a world that is already secluded and sparse. Beyond obsessive, her behaviour begins to take on the form of punishment. Céline believes that this is the most satisfying expression of faith.

It's an age old religious viewpoint, one that is especially familiar to those who've studied medieval Christianity. The film recalls Hadewijch, a famous figure in Dutch literature, the embodiment of selfless service to her God. She wrote extensively about love, equating the worldly form with the divine one. Both versions embodied a tortuous zeal and both were based on a pining for the unattainable.

Mother Superior realizes that Céline cannot continue like this, and so she sends her home to Paris. Home is a stark contrast to the monastery. The daughter of diplomat, Céline is suddenly placed into the lap of luxury, a garden of humanly delights that sparkles with the lustre of gems and gilt.

Céline is lonely, her parents are too busy and she has no friends. She longs for the monastery and seeks solace in her daily rituals. One day she meets Yassine (Yassine Salime), a young man whose reality contrasts hers in every way: culturally, socio-economically and religiously. An Arab who lives in the projects, he nevertheless understands her need to follow a divine law, but he does not quite understand the extreme depths of her devotion.

Yassine introduces her to his brother, Nassir (Karl Sarafidis), in an attempt to ground her in the here and now. Instead, Céline finds a kindred spirit. Nassir is a religious figure in the Arab community who is able to discuss religious faith in a way that expands Céline's emotional and intellectual horizons.

Céline and Nassir connect on a level that goes beyond practical logic. Together they reason out the mysteries of faith in a manner that allows for and encourages a form of religious extremism. To them the unimaginable makes sense, and so they proceed to make manifest their love for "god" on a grand scale. Dumont's decision to reach into the past and across cultural lines to elaborate this phenomenon creates a breathtakingly incisive statement that reverberates across many divides still present today. Hadewijch is quite simply extraordinary.

Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Julie Sokolowski, David Dewaele, Yassine Salim and Karl Sarafidis
Director/Screenwriter: Bruno Dumont
Producers: Rachid Bouchareb and Muriel Merlin
Genre: Drama; French- and Arabic-languages, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100 min
Release Date: December 24 NY, December 29 SF


Tags: Julie Sokolowski, David Dewaele, Yassine Salim, Karl Sarafidis, Bruno Dumont, Rachid Bouchareb, Muriel Merlin

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