Hadewijch (Director: Bruno Dumont): In this, his fifth fea­ture film, Bruno Dumont has cre­ated some­thing as mys­ter­i­ous and beau­ti­ful as his prot­ag­on­ist. We meet young Celine in a con­vent, where she is hop­ing to take her vows as a nun. But her refusal to eat and other acts of self-denial worry the Mother Superior, who turns her out into the world, hop­ing to rid her of what she con­siders “self-love.” Though she lives with her wealthy par­ents in the centre of Paris, they’re dis­tant and there’s some sug­ges­tion of bur­ied issues with her father.

One day she meets some boys in a café, who are amazed at her trust­ing nature. Yassine takes a spe­cial lik­ing to her, although she rebuffs his romantic advances, claim­ing she only has love for Christ. The young Muslim is befuddled but still besot­ted, so he con­tin­ues their friend­ship. Eventually she vis­its the home he shares with his brother Nassir in the hous­ing pro­jects out­side the city. Nassir is a “ser­i­ous” Muslim, accord­ing to Yassine, and he thinks they’ll hit it off. He has no idea.

Nassir recog­nizes the fire that burns in Celine’s heart, and though their reli­gions are dif­fer­ent, their pas­sion is the same. Over time, he con­vinces Celine that God is not only about love, but about justice as well. Soon after that, he takes her to Lebanon to show her the injustice he finds there. Dumont patiently lays the ground­work for a stun­ning cli­max that shows just how eas­ily love can turn to viol­ence.

Meanwhile, in a par­al­lel plot, we fol­low David, a petty crim­inal work­ing in con­struc­tion at the con­vent. He breaks his parole and is sent back to jail for a few months. It’s not clear what his pur­pose is until the final scene, in which the two lives stand in stark con­trast to each other. Celine lives in extremes, reach­ing for holi­ness and find­ing tragedy. David is an every­man, flawed but more cap­able of love than Celine could ever be. The inter­sec­tion of their lives leads to a power­fully mov­ing end­ing.

Dumont put his faith in non-pro­fes­sional Julie Sokolowski to play Celine, and the decision pays off. She por­trays her dis­con­nec­tion from the world nat­ur­ally, even as she radi­ates a for­bid­den sexu­al­ity. Her pur­ity attracts men, but she only has eyes for Christ, and her obses­sion verges on the sexual. Her pray­ers are pain­ful, express­ing her yearn­ing to be with Christ even as she protests his absence. She longs for the ecstasy and obli­vion of union with God, and the con­nec­tion with some of the rhet­oric of Islamic ter­ror­ism couldn’t be more clear.

This is the first of Dumont’s films I’ve seen, and I’m cap­tiv­ated by his intel­li­gence and will­ing­ness to explore such interior issues as reli­gious faith and obses­sion. In the post-screen­ing Q&A, he revealed that Hadewijch was a real mys­tic from the Middle Ages, and his explor­a­tion of what a mod­ern example would look like in a world filled with polit­ical action makes for one smart and haunt­ing film.

Official site of the film (en fran­cais)

Here is the Q&A with dir­ector Bruno Dumont from after the screen­ing:

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Duration: 27:10


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8 Responses to Hadewijch

  1. Rob says:

    Many thanks for your sens­it­ive and inform­at­ive review, and for provid­ing the Q&A audio.

    Could the film’s depic­tion of Islamic piety have any­thing to do with its not hav­ing been selec­ted for this year’s Cannes?

  2. Thank you for your com­ment, Rob. I was speak­ing with a (non-reli­gious) Muslim friend today and he found the film offens­ive. I argued that I thought Dumont was try­ing to show that any reli­gious fer­vor can be turned to viol­ent ends, but he thought that the Muslim char­ac­ters had been “used”. Interesting dis­cus­sion.

  3. Remy says:

    Thanks a lot for provid­ing the Q&A audio. Can you say what was the gen­eral feel­ing about the film after the screen­ing? Did people only think about its reli­gious mean­ing?

  4. Difficult to say, Remy. I think someone in the Q&A made a com­ment that they thought she was suf­fer­ing from a men­tal ill­ness, but some people say that about almost any­one who doesn’t sub­scribe to a com­pletely mater­i­al­istic world view these days. I wish there had been com­ments about the Muslim issue. I expect there will be in the French press!

  5. khatar says:

    I have to say that Dumont wasnt inter­ested to think about the islam. The muslims were treated like the Others, from an external point of view. Maybe he should have gone deeply in the mat­ter but he didnt. This reveals to us the gen­eral status of the islam in our world. The char­ac­ter of Nassir wasnt a simple ter­ror­ist alquaida style. He was also an intel­lec­tual engaged in politic. We can notice that the war in his coun­try is related to his will of put­ting the bomb. dont you think?

  6. Barry says:

    An insight­ful review of a com­pel­ling and power­ful film. Your 9/10 rat­ing is apro­pos. One could hear a pin drop at the repeat TIFF screen­ing at the Winter Garden on Saturday. HADEWIJCH is one of those films that res­on­ates days later. Beautifully-made, haunt­ing indeed, a truly thought pro­vok­ing exper­i­ence in many ways. Controversial? Yes. That’s what makes for power­ful cinema.

  7. khatar says:

    I have to say that Lebanon is not the coun­try in the story because in lebanon we find only red cross.

  8. Rob says:

    I won­der if the walk-outs at San Sebastian were promp­ted by the issue under dis­cus­sion here:


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