Cast: Julie Sokolowski, Yassine Salime and Karl Sarafidis
Bruno Dumont has a way of splitting opinion; you either love or hate his films. Coming from a classical philosophical background, Dumont creates films that are as controversial as they are artistic; embedded with stark realism whilst often shrouded in mystery. Hadewijch was a 13th Century poet and mystic who was obsessed with the sublimation to God, and here Dumont gives us our first clues about the “heroine” of this story.
Céline (Sokolowski) is a young novice nun who is required to leave her convent (Hadewijch) by the mother superior because of obsessive spiritual belief, mortification and mortal pride. She returns to her rich family in Paris and lives her life in isolation until she meets Nassir (Sarafidis) and his Arab friends in a bar. She eventually meets Nassir’s brother, Yaasime (Salime), and through his relationship with her and Islam, she realises that there are other avenues to God.
Hadewijch won the International Film Critics Award at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2009, but has taken its time to reach Britain. As with all of Dumont’s work, it is a difficult film to find an audience for it. Almost completely shunning a musical score (relying on background noise with the occasional diegetic musical interruption) and using a non-professional (Sokolowski) in a main role, Hadewijch is a powerful, beautifully framed piece of film-making, which brings to mind the work of Robert Bresson.
The similarities between Céline and the eponymous mystic are striking. Sokolowski puts in a startling performance for a first-time actress; it is remarkably understated and natural. Hadewijch builds up to a climax, which is so out of key with the rest of the film, it almost blows you out of your seat. David Dewaele plays a builder whose story is occasionally interspersed within the film, before playing a pivotal role at the films finale. After watching the film, I awoke in the early morning with the realisation of his true purpose.
Beware; Hadewijch will not be a film to everyone’s taste. It is littered with religious symbolism, unsettlingly slow at times and riddles with ambiguity. However, it is profoundly effecting, naturalistically shot with a beautiful realism which is entirely refreshing.