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Released 24 February 2012
Director Bruno Dumont

Julie Sokolowski, Karl Sarafidis, Yassine Salime, David Dewaele, Brigitte Mayeux-Clerget, Michelle Ardenne, Sabrina Lechene, Marie Castelain, Luc-Francois Bouyssonie
Writer(s) Bruno Dumont

Jean Brehat, Rachid Bouchareb, Muriel Merlin
Origin France
Running Time 120 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating TBC

Bad habits.

Bruno Dumont is a very serious director with some very serious ideas. For his first film La vie de Jesus, he wrote an entire novel rather than a traditional screenplay in order to fully give life to his re-telling of the life of Jesus. Oh yes, this man means business. His latest Hadewijch, is, writ large and in capital letters, an ART FILM. And as is so often the case with such films, it has a wealth of good ideas that struggle to compete with the overwhelming portentousness of its form.

The film tells the story of a young, extremely pious woman called Celine (Julie Sokolowski). She is living in an isolated convent in the hope of taking her vows and devoting herself to her faith. The nuns in the convent however feel her faith to be too extreme. She abstains from food and refuses to wear any warm clothing, actions which the nuns believe show a narcissism incompatible with their lifestyle. So Celine finds herself back out in the world, unsure of what to do next, her faith still strong. By chance, she becomes involved with two young Muslim brothers, one of whom is involved in terrorism.

There are a lot of interesting ideas raised here, not only of religion and its different forms of extremism but also of class and its connection to religious violence (Celine comes from a very wealthy family while the brothers she meets live in suburban tower blocks). However, the film undoubtedly suffers thanks to the glacial pace of its execution and Dumont’s preoccupation with silence. Sokolowski’s performance as Celine is admittedly magnetic but as we gaze at her as she prays or moves silently around her life, the film loses its way a little. Dumont doesn’t seem keen on answering any of the questions raised by the scenario, but is merely content to look on impassively.

The result is quite a cold, unsatisfactory experience but not one without its merits. The performances are staggeringly naturalistic and Sokolowski carries the film on the strength of her performance. Perhaps if Dumont had added a little dash of Hollywood thriller into this art film mix, it would have been a more dynamic, less pretentious affair.

- Linda O’Brien