Hadewijch | Film reviews, news & interviews
Bruno Dumont's portrait of a failed novice seduced by a jihadist's fervent talk of faith
Hadewijch of Antwerp was a 13th-century mystic whose poetry had a formative influence on Dutch literature. Though influenced by the courtly love tradition, the subject of her poems was the love of God and the mysteries of the divine. She was probably not a nun but a beguine – a devout noblewoman in a self-denying contemplative order that carried out works of Christian charity. There is a suggestion in her letters that she may have been exiled from her sisters and yearned to rejoin them.
So it is with the novice (Julie Sokolowski) named Hadewijch who’s cast out of her rural monastery at the start of Bruno Dumont’s transfixing fifth film. An excessively devout theology student, she gives her bread to the birds and dresses inadequately in winter, a form of self-mortification that, says the mother superior, makes her “a caricature of a nun”. Instead of taking orders, she is sent off to discover her “true desires”. A man (David Dewaele) who has been doing building work at the monastery, and who is possibly attracted to her, also leaves the premises, to return to prison for breaking parole. They are linked by their need to remake their lives. Their paths will cross eventually, though not in the most obvious way.
Hadewijch, whose secular name is Céline, returns to the opulent but spiritually dead Paris apartment of her remote mother and cabinet minister father, whom she regards as a patronising “jerk.” She allows herself to be chatted up in a café by three Moslem banlieue boys who marvel at her naïveté. One of them, Yassine (Yassine Salime, right, with Sokolowski), takes her to a gig and vainly tries to kiss her. She later explains to the mystified youth that she’s a virgin in love with God to the exclusion of men and has renounced the idea of sex.
The boy, who’s faithless, and the girl remain close, but she falls under the spell of his older brother, Nassir (Karl Sarafidis), who teaches the Koran. When she attends his class, he dwells on the paradox of God being both visible and invisible, echoing the paradoxical notion of the eternal love of God put forward by the medieval Hadewijch: “Her truest fidelity brings about our fall / Her highest being drowns us in the depths.”
On a daytrip they take to the monastery, Nassir argues that political action, violent if necessary, is essential to faith, and that “God is a sword against injustice.” Passively and somewhat implausibly (for she fears for the innocent), Céline agrees to join his jihad. Suddenly the pair are visiting an unspecified Middle Eastern country where they witness the aftermath of a bombing and meet with the members of a terrorist cell. Back in Paris, they go on a mission…
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Denis Villeneuve is at the helm and Emily Blunt at the fore of a brutal narco-war thriller
A not-so-Swinging Sixties in Joan Littlewood’s comedic yet fiercely political critique of so-called progress
As Suffragette opens the London Film Festival, its director reflects on a group of women ahead of their time
Outstanding documentary on ice hockey and politics charts changing mood of Russia
Alecky Blythe's documentary stage musical looks at home on the small screen
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
The Scottish play starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard marries spectacle to mumblecore
Pacino triumphs, despite questionable attempts to channel Neil Diamond
Challenging French film about engagement, or lack of it, in unsettling ocean environment
Matt Damon gives a masterclass in survival in Ridley Scott's space adventure
The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck
Diverse films gave a glimpse beyond the tourist veneer of Brazil's cultural capital