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13 October 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

LFF #5 — Hadewijch

From the London Film Festival: a nun on the run

By Daniel Trilling

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.

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