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.

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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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