Today: May 23, 2024
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Hadewijch

Loving the Lord a little too much, young novice nun Celine’s (Julie Sokolowski) spiritual devotion to Christ even freaks out the other, mostly elderly, nuns in its all-consuming passion.

Loving the Lord a little too much, young novice nun Celine’s
(Julie Sokolowski) spiritual devotion to Christ even freaks out the other,
mostly elderly, nuns in its all-consuming passion.
Starving herself and practicing (thankfully undepicted) self-mortification,
the Mother Superior thinks Celine may be a little too tightly wound for convent
life, that she may be taking the whole piety and self-sacrifice thing a bit
far, that the extremity of her faith may be selfish, an extreme manifestation
of vanity and that maybe a little time back in the real world will give Celine
the chance to examine her vocation and put her life in perspective.

Cast out of the
convent, the devastated Celine returns to the Parisian home of her wealthy
parents where she soon embarks on a platonic relationship with young Muslim
Yassine (Yassine Salime), making it
clear that she’s saving herself for Christ. Increasingly drawn to Yassine’s older, more serious brother
Nassir (Karl Sarafidis), Celine
comes to see him as something of a kindred spirit. Quiet, thoughtful and devout, he shares her fanaticism for
God. Seduced by his extremism, he
and Celine visit the Middle East where the spectacle of everyday, random
violence perpetrated on the population inspires Celine to commit a shocking,
brutal act of catharsis.

Austere,
elliptical and pessimistic, Bruno Dumont’s
work can be an acquired taste.
It’s certainly one that I haven’t acquired yet. Devoid of humour and thumpingly
obvious, his teenage ruminations on the bestial nature of Man and Nature (Twentynine Palms, Flandres, Hors Satan)
are usually notable only for rendering boring his explicit depictions of
extreme sex and violence. Named
after the Medieval poet and mystic who, like Celine, also had a bit of a thing
for Jesus and self-harming, Hadewijch
is no less ponderous than Dumont’s other work but it is refreshingly rape-free
for a change, choosing instead to focus on a female protagonist, her intense
crisis of faith and fanaticism rather than his usual bestial males and their
more worldly concerns.

The film’s slow,
contemplative meditation on religious fervor and its dark side will divide
audiences but its equating of the extremism of both Christianity and Islam is a
rich, bold move. This isn’t a film
about the rights and wrongs or particular merits of one religion over
another. This is a film about
lonely, isolated, alienated people who are desperate to believe in something,
anything, bigger than themselves.
Adrift in a secular, seemingly godless world, Celine and Nassir’s
thankless devotion to God and their eventual act of terrorism is as much a
desire to prove they matter. They
want God’s attention. They want
him to notice them. As the Mother
Superior suggests to Celine at the start of the film, her devotion is far from
selfless. Her fasting and
self-punishment isn’t really about God, it’s a way for Celine to be
noticed.

Non-actor
Sokolowski gives a fantastic, nuanced performance as Celine, bringing a depth
to the pious failed nun that simply isn’t in the script, eliciting the
audience’s sympathies and identification.
Dumont never explicitly condemns or condones Celine’s actions but he
does allow her a glimmer of hope, the possibility of redemption.

Bleak and
sincere, Hadewijch is an absorbing
study of blind faith and devotion.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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