October 8, 2009
Bruno Dumont's Hadewijch departs from his familiar aesthetic of landscapes as abstract manifestations of internal states to create a spare and intimate, yet equally provocative exploration of absolute faith, martyrdom, and God's silence. From the opening shot of an ascetic postulant, Céline (Julie Sokolowski) making her way across the woods to visit a Pietà at a nearby church, Dumont channels Robert Bresson's cinema, suggesting an updated version of the frail country priest in Diary of a Country Priest walking to his new parish. Sent back to live in the "real world" after disobeying the Mother Superior's entreaties that she end her self-imposed mortification, Céline's reality proves to be far from the terrestrial grounding that the nuns had in mind, returning to a comfortable, if aimless bourgeois life as the daughter of a cabinet minister. Befriending a young man from the banlieue, Yassine (Yassine Salim), Céline becomes increasingly drawn to his older brother, an imam named Nassir (Karl Sarafdis) whose theological discussions on the Koran mirror her own unrequited quest - a connection that would lead her further into spiritual darkness. In its portrait of disaffected youth in the aftermath of traumatic history, Hadewijch converges towards The Devil, Probably, where revolution is borne of uncertainty and displaced passion. However, inasmuch as Dumont invokes the spirit of Bresson throughout the film, the concluding shot of Céline by the river proves to be a subversion of the iconic sequence from Mouchette, achieving transcendence, not from immolation, but from salvation.