Hadewijch (R13)

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Review byMatthew Turner17/02/2012

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

There is no doubt about it, French director Bruno Dumont is a polarising figure: some love his low-budget, provocative films, others deem them self-indulgent and pretentious. His latest work, however, breaks his own mould: there’s no sex and very little violence in Hadewijch – just a 20 year old girl suffering a crisis of faith.

What’s it all about?
Philosopher turned fillmmaker Bruno Dumont is never one to shy away from difficult bordering on unpleasant subjects - from his war drama Flanders to his desert sex odyssey Twenty Nine Palms. Here, he turns his attention to religious extremism and in particular on fresh-faced novice Celine (Julie Sokolowski), known as the titular Hadewijch by her fellow nuns.

After discovering that Celine has been refusing to eat and has been harming herself, the mother superior tells her that such zealous behaviour is too vain to be compatible with true faith, and that she should return to the real world. Eager to escape her parent’s stifling, opulent Parisian life, she meets young Arab boy Yassine (Yassine Salime) and gradually falls under the spell of his Muslim fundamentalist brother, Nassir (Karl Sarafidis), who looks to take advantage of her devout faith.

The Good
Religious extremism is a subject usually targeted by thrillers, so Dumont’s attempt at a nuanced character study of a 20 year old who murmurs such statements as “the sweetest thing about love is its violence,” in her prayers is far from the norm. Both Christianity and Islam are never demonised in the film; instead Dumont tries to get to the heart of Celine’s dilemma (that she is utterly in love with a God whose presence she can’t feel) rather than just condemn her as “nutty” as Yassine does.

However, her journey from a convent to an unnamed Middle Eastern country is not always as convincing or as psychologically penetrating as it could have been: Dumont always keeps his protagonist at a slight distance, letting you in enough to empathise, but never quite enough to properly appreciate the depth of Celine’s afflictions.

The Great
Dumont always insists upon non-professional actors and newcomer Julie Skolimowski’s understated turn proves why. The film’s masterly use of landscape and mise en scene also adds depth and insight into the characters’ predicaments.

Worth Seeing?
Hadewijch is a thoughtful piece of raw, austere filmmaking, catering specifically for those interested in serious and adventurous cinema.

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Content updated: 26/04/2019 08:22

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