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4.0 out of 5 stars
Hadewijch [DVD]
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on 25 April 2015
Having now seen the seven features that Bruno Dumont has made to date and having loved all but ‘Twentynine Palms ’, I want to say something about this fascinating, unique and influential maverick. A review for ‘Hadewijch’ is the best place to do so, because it is the most accessible of his films so far and the most topical in the current climate of jihadist terror.

Dumont’s trademark visual style has become so influential that it is now prevalent, if not trendy, in the work of young filmmakers worldwide. This approach, in which the camera holds it position for a relatively long period of time, meditatively capturing so a carefully composed image, has successfully challenged a key convention of cinema. In the documentary ‘I am So, So’, Krzysztof Kieslowski explains that the maximum length for a still shot should not exceed 15 seconds, so as to keep the viewer’s attention and to maintain the flow of a story, using the example of a sugar cube in a coffee cup from ‘Trois Couleurs: Bleu’. In striking contrast, Dumont captures much of his movies in still takes that are minutes long, the effect of which is a deeper engagement with the characters of a story and their surroundings, at a pace as realistic as life itself. A typical example of this is the opening sequence of ‘Hadewijch‘, where a church under restoration is held in a long view for several minutes, allowing the audience to explore the setting in audiovisual detail. Equally lengthy, static captures of Julie Sokolowski’s face elsewhere in the film facilitate a deeper understanding of her character and emotional state. In addition to its engrossing impact on the audience, this visual approach offers practical benefits in simplifying a production to its core essentials, thereby making substantial savings on the budget, and that is essentially the reason why Dumont’s visual technique is appealing to independent, low-budget filmmakers the world over.

Challenging the conventions is what Dumont is all about, his methodology for instigating a film being an intriguing insight into that defiance. Instead of developing a script, he begins a movie by writing a full-blown story all on his own, like a fiction writer does. Once the story is complete, he then searches for locations and novices to play the characters, again all on his own. At this stage, the characteristics of the chosen cast and the locations help him amend the story accordingly and develop a filmable script. Then and only then does he seek financing for the project. Even then, Dumont does not rely on the conventional ways of securing funding. He instead deploys his loyal producer duo to seek financiers, who are prepared to risk investing in a project over which they would have little or no control. This hard-fought autonomy allows Dumont to realise his movies in the way he sees fit, without interference and with integrity, the outcome of which is an outstanding portfolio of films that are not just unique, but are groundbreaking in that they expand the horizons of cinema.

Casting non-professionals for his roles is one of Dumont‘s masterstrokes, an actor never appearing more than once in his films, except for the late David Dewaele who deservedly gets two recalls. In the case of ‘Hadewijch‘, Dumont had discovered Julie Sokolowski, but had to wait a year or so before she reluctantly agreed and was available. The reason for that insistence becomes abundantly clear, when we experience her captivating performance as Céline, an astounding achievement for a novice.

Simplicity of storytelling is the other virtue in Dumont’s work. His stories are usually linear and uncluttered, but profound in the character development, largely through visual means. There is one idiosyncrasy that repeats across his movies. That is the way he depicts sex, quite intentionally as a loveless, mechanical and often brutal act, expressed in an emotionless manner. While I find this particularly disturbing, it is an integral part of Dumont’s realism, where objectivity relentlessly challenges our notions of romanticism.

‘Hadewijch‘ is my favourite so far amongst Dumont’s films. Uncomplicated, but potent, probing and demanding in its emotional and spiritual depth, this is the kind of movie that haunts the mind long after the credits roll out. Through exceptional performances from a non-professional cast, the film poses universal questions about the role of religion in the contemporary society, the answers to which must be found before we sleepwalk into another world war!
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on 5 February 2013
I must admit this is one of the best films I have seen in a while. Julie Sokolowski mesmerizes in the role of Hadewijch and really captures my mind and heart. She is devoted to God, but also rather naive, as her involvement with Muslim fundamentalists proves - though the film tries to take an enlightened view of even this and in the end it is shown that there is but one 'God' even if his followers are often flawed. There is a luminous and poetic beauty to this film if one can see beyond the outer- it is deeply mystical and uplifting and there is redemption for more than one person... The imagery is clear and beautiful. It's a film I could watch many times and I highly recommend it....The ending is very moving indeed without giving anything away.
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on 9 June 2015
This is an incredibly intelligent, well constructed film. I really enjoyed even though it deals with a deeply religious girl who is so convincing I was taken along with her convictions. Later, she meets Muslims and you get to see their side also, and also realise the frustrations. In fact you get this polarization of the two faiths as well as similarities, and of the utter righteousness of its protagonists even if misguided at times. Above all this it is a beautiful film and Julie Sokolowski is a very fine minimalist actress. If I have made it sound serious then it is also humorous and deeply moving and wonderfully directed.
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on 26 June 2017
Interesting film from France. A modern day life of mystic Hadewijch. Pity the director, nor the leading actress are Christians, because it loses so much of what could have been a beautiful film. Pity that they don't understand the religion that they are trying to portray.
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on 26 October 2017
Excellent, thought provoking movie. Deep and moving too.
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on 5 December 2012
First off this film had a very beautiful ending that I won't spoil.
Meanwhile this film, rather than write off Islamic extremists as nut-cases , actually explores their God vision in all seriousness through the eyes of a young catholic woman who is so ardent that it's the nuns who cast her from the convent with the advice to experience a slice of life first, which brings her to her senses by the end of the film.

She is picked up by a young moslem who decides since she is not a western wanton lay ( too full of Christ for that) maybe she can become a better bet or girl-friend if he can persuade her to convert. He introduces her into his community segregated in the Paris surburbs where her own extremism finds acceptance and out-let.

Moslems need not find this a distasteful film as it treats them with respect right up to the end without condoning violence. I'm an atheist for what it counts and turned off by humbug in cinema. Nevertheless I really enjoyed this film- it's as about vision as it is about religion.
The acting is of the type that you forget is acting. So excellent this film and I have been waiting and watching for its release on DVD for over a year since catching it on comcast.
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This French-language subtitled arthouse film is a stunner, although it's not particularly comfortable watching, nor does it set a particularly brisk pace. The payoff for investing your time and attention is a vivid interpretation of how fanaticism can consume everything, one which boldly contrasts the Muslim and Roman Catholic faiths.

The scene is set in modern-day Paris, where a young woman in her late teens is consumed by passion for Christ. Some girls get an inappropriate crush on their maths teacher, a particular movie star or even a horse. This girl is totally obsessed by her love of God. She's swept from ecstasy to sobbing misery by the strength of her emotions; a 21st century Jeanne d'Arc, oblivious to everything apart from her adoration of what she believes is her saviour.
Expelled from the convent when the film starts, Celine returns to her family life in the metropolis. We learn that she lives in an opulent but emotionally sterile mansion, estranged from her high society parents. It's not long before Celine seeks companionship in the streets of the city, and there she meets a group of young Muslim men - and soon discovers that she has much in common with the most religious of them.
`Hadewijch' takes its time to develop these themes, and is filmed at times in a static, languid manner featuring vast landscapes and cityscapes, and tight, intimate close-ups. Celine's face fills the frame for long, long moments. In two (brave, extended) musical interludes we see her transformed from confusion to devotion, uplifted by a classic string quartet, then bemused by a Parisian streetband.
It would be easy to classify `Hadewijch' as a film which explores the development of `homegrown terrorism', of the how and why young people are swayed to appalling acts of violence against their countrymen. But the complex plot and delicate characterisation touch on many more subjects; there's an undercurrent of anorexia (Celine controls herself by refusing to eat; she covers her body after a bath when she looks at herself in a mirror), and the normal confusion of sexual attraction between young people (Celine tells her male friend Yassine that she is a virgin and `only for God', and then initiates physical contact with the young man, crowding his space in a teeth-on-edge kitchen scene).

There is no happy ending to `Hadewijch'. Indeed, the director has chosen to make it deliberately obscure; the final scenes can be viewed as flashback (my interpretation), or as finale (if you insist on everything being linear). There is however plenty to discuss and absorb and understand; it's a thought-provoking and beautifully-filmed discussion of age-old themes.

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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2012
Celine is a young novitiate nun who is sent out of the nunnery by her Mother Superior because she is too full of self-love,is too extremist,mistakes abstinence for martyrdom, she needs to test her faith in the real world. Everything she goes through is an attempt to get closer to God.Her novitiate name is Hadewijch, after the 13th century mystic.She's seen at home in the Ile Saint Loue, in a lavish dwelling in modern day Paris with her dog, lounging about or strolling through the corridors and rooms of her affluent parent's,her father a minister,her mother detached,Celine seems alienated.She meets Yassine,a young street thief from the projects,who takes her to a punk concert and realizes she's not interested in sex with him. She pledges herself to Christ and has the mystic's desire to draw closer to His body.Yassine thinks(rightly?)she's nuts,being the only normal person(and very funny)in the story.When she puts her head on his shoulder,he asks does she want love?Dumont does not explore her character: how she became so religious,the roots of her antagonism with her father.Celine is infatuated with God.

She attends a church where Bach is being played by a quartet and is uplifted by it.Sokolowski's face filled with an inner radiance.Yassine breaks the law, steals a motor-bike and goes through red lights with Celine on the back.He introduces her to his older brother Nassir,who is a devout Muslim,and gives talks in the back of a kebab shop about Islamic belief.He can't understand why she suffers for the `love' of God,she `must act if you have faith...continue the creator's work'.He says `innocence' doesn't exist in a democracy,where people vote but take no responsibility. God is a `sword for truth and justice'.He takes her to an Arabic country to see the humiliation inflicted.She meets a group of terrorists.She declares herself `with' Nassir, saying she's `ready' to fight the cause as a way of getting closer to God.We are given to understand she plants a bomb in Paris.There is a street explosion,she travels below on a tube train with Nassir.We take it she was the 'chosen' one.Police go to the convent to ask her questions, but she escapes,pursued by the demons of self-doubt,in the abscence of God.

Celine torments herself in her search for God.Julie Sokolowski embodies the ingenue otherworldliness and childlike candour of Celine,with a wan-faced pallour, a bodily awkwardness,suggesting her vulnerability.Her fear that she has paid too high a price, feeling no closer to God,for her actions.Dumont's camera is usually at head height and fairly close up, moving through landscapes in long shots.David,a shirtless Mason and convict on parole who has been working in the convent grounds, comes to play a major part in Celine's salvation as a form of embodied grace.In a world without God there is still the need for the sacred and the spiritual. Dumont shows various forms of fanaticism merging. God is in the humanity of our ordinary,modern world. Dumont takes us on a journey with Celine, the film as mystical act,a poem not to be interpreted at face value,with surrealistic ellipses and lacunae,reason breaking down,we take things on faith.Dumont makes us empathise with Celine.The ending is a problem,instead of signing off with an act of terrorism,Dumont brings in a miraculous climax,the coda a mystery of love,to send you out the door with too many questions in your head.Disturbing,haunting,cathartic.
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on 30 January 2015
Never really goes anywhere
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on 21 June 2015
I think without a doubt the worst film I have ever seen. Grindingly slow and utterly boring. Two hours of religious rubbish.
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