LFF #5 -- Hadewijch

From the London Film Festival: a nun on the run

Hadewijch
dir: Bruno Dumont

As if in defiance of critics in his native France, who have dismissed his films as "too Catholic", Bruno Dumont's latest work begins in a convent. Hadewijch is the adopted name of Céline, a teenage novice who takes it all a bit too seriously: starving herself, going out in the cold without a proper coat -- usual adolescent behaviour, in other words, were it not that she also believes Christ is her boyfriend. The nuns send Céline home with the instruction to test her faith in the real world. On her return home to Paris, she strikes up a friendship with Yassine, an Arab teenager, and is drawn into the world of Nassir, Yassine's elder brother and a devout Muslim.

It's meant to be an exploration of desire and religious belief in modern times, but, on first viewing at least, the film gets itself unnecessarily tangled in symbolic knots. It would take a more considered approach than this blog to pick apart Dumont's argument, but the film is certainly unique. Julie Sokolowski, who plays Céline, is great; and there are some pleasing nods to Bresson (his 1966 film Mouchette in particular). Dumont has suggested that his work bears a closer resemblance to Flemish painting than to any cinematic tradition, and it is this aspect that really stands out: long, static takes in which human figures often dominate the frame. In a way -- and I never dreamed I'd write this sentence -- I might have preferred the film to spend its 105 minutes looking at the wizened, wimpled faces of elderly French nuns.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images
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Tsipras' resignation has left Syriza in dire straits

Splinter group Popular Unity’s stated aim is to take Greece out of the deal Syriza struck with its creditors.

The resignation of Alexis Tsipras on 20 August was the start of a new chapter in the havoc affecting all sections of Greek political life. “We haven’t yet lived our best days,” the 41-year-old prime minister said as he stood down, though there is little cause for optimism.

Tsipras’s capitulation to the indebted state’s lenders by signing up to more austerity measures has split his party and demoralised further a people resigned to their fate.

Polls show that no party commands an absolute majority at present. It seems as though we are heading for years of grand coalitions made up of uneasy partnerships that can only hope to manage austerity, with little room for social reform. The main parties from across the political spectrum have lost legitimacy and the anti-austerity campaign is more marginal than ever. Many fear the rise of extremists, such as members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Thankfully, that is unlikely to happen: the party’s leadership is facing a number of grave accusations, including forming a criminal organisation, and its general secretary, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, is going out of his way to appear more moderate than ever.

It is to the left of Syriza that most activity is taking place. The former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis has defected to co-found a new party, Popular Unity (an ironic name in the circumstances), joined by MPs from the radical Left Platform and, according to the latest information, Zoi Konstantopoulou – the current speaker of the Hellenic
Parliament, who had considered starting her own party but lacked time and support in the run-up to the general election, scheduled for 20 September.

Popular Unity’s stated aim is to take Greece out of the deal struck with its creditors, to end austerity (even if that means leaving the euro) and to rebuild the country. It is likely that the party will work with the far-left coalition Antarsya, which campaigned hard to guarantee the Oxi referendum victory in July and increasingly looks like Syriza in 2009, when it won 4.6 per cent of the vote in the Greek legislative election under Tsipras.

Yet it is dispiriting that few on the left seem to understand that more splits, new parties and weak, opportunistic alliances will contribute to the weakening of parliamentary democracy. It is perhaps a sign that the idea of a left-wing government may become toxic for a generation after the six months that took the economy to the edge and failed to produce meaningful change.

Despite this fragmentation on the left, the largest right-wing opposition party, New Democracy, has been unable to force a surge in the polls. Its new leader, Vangelis Meimarakis, enjoys the respect of both the parliament and the public but has few committed supporters. The apolitical alliance To Potami (“the river”) appears to have stalled on 6-8 per cent, while the once-dominant Pasok is unlikely to enter parliament without forming a coalition on the centre left, postponing its predicted collapse for a few more years.

The winner amid all of this is apathy. Many believe that a large number of Greeks won’t vote in the September election – the fifth in six years (or the sixth, if you include the referendum in July). The situation in Greece should serve as an example of what could happen to democracies across Europe that lack political unity: parties with clear ideological positions end up serving as managers of diktats from Brussels, while more extreme forces become the de facto opposition. In this harsh climate, many citizens will either abandon their politicians or, in a bleaker scenario, reject the democratic system that elected them. 

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism