Thursday, 16 February 2012

HADEWIJCH reviewed

In Bruno Dumont's film, Hadewijch, a novice in a Catholic convent who has taken her religious name from a 13th century mystic, has fallen in love with Christ, and desperately seeks catharsis for her desires for Him. The Mother Superior decides to expel her as, in her words, her love of God and the Son of God has become obsessive, the world could offer opportunities for her that the walls of the convent could not. Her words became prophetic in unintended ways.

I can distinguish in Dumont's film, who has a background in Greek and philosophy, three chapters, although they seamlessly blends into a coherent whole:

  •  The love for Christ
  •  Seeking catharsis
  •  Catharsis

Once she is back in Paris with her parents in their sumptuous baroque apartment, her steps echoing through the vast rooms, Céline's days, she has gone back to her civilian name, drift between waiting for her exams results, caring for her beloved dog, praying and wandering around. The camera zooms to her hands playing with a crucifix as she meets three Arab boys in a café, and she eagerly goes with them to a gig on the Seine. An uneasy relationship develops between her and Yassine, one of the boys, although she rejects his advances as she is a virgin, and wants to stay that way, in spite of her eagerness to befriend strangers, because she wants to give herself to Christ. Yassine, whilst respecting her, finds difficult to understand her feelings. Céline invites the boy for lunch with her parents, an occasion that amplifies their differences as he rebukes her for calling her father, a government minister, a “jerk”.

However, this chance meeting with Yassine leads her to an encounter with Islamic Fundamentalism through his brother, Nassir, a religious studies workshop leader. She seeks his advice, as a religious man, as she believes he can help her in her quest for God, for Christ. He recruits her for his campaign to avenge the humiliation of his people after a visit to Lebanon, where she witnesses the aftermath of an Israeli aerial attack, where she sees the smoking ruins of a house, the body of a little boy killed in the bombardment, and, most of all, she experiences the anger, that anger coming from the guts. In a democracy, there are no innocents, is Nassir's argument, so we all are target for punishment. In her sacrifice, she glimpses her union with Christ.

Céline is a very open and innocent young girl, at no moment she hides or flaunts the comfort and wealth of her family, in a way, she sees them as much as an obstacle to her desire to give herself to Christ as her body is. There is a recurrent theme in the film, the film opens with it, as we watch Céline climbing a steep hill, panting, crying, reaching a shrine on a hill top church, where she prays for her beloved Christ, the symbolic value of this ascent being visually beautifully rendered. However, she has developed in her quest with each appearance of this film, culminating in the last scene where she, at last, finds her catharsis in an unexpected manner.

Julie Sokolowski gives a powerful and nuanced yet low key rendering of the path that Hadewijch has taken to reach her goal, while Yassine Salime as Yassine gives an excellent performance as the Arab boy from the projects (council housing) with no training nor job, while Karl Sarafidis conveys the low burning yet explosive anger of Nassir for the humiliation of his people. David Dewaele plays the small time crook doing odd jobs at the convent, where he meets Hadewijch.

Hadewijch, a meditative cinematic study on the nature of religious faith and passion, carnal passion, and their impact in contemporary society, offers some thoughtful insights on the nature of terrorism, Julie Sokolowski particularly being worth of praise for the depth and development of her character.

Hadewijch will be released by New Wave Films on selected British cinemas on February 17, 2012.

For screenings please click HERE.

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