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The Auteurs Daily: Toronto and NYFF. Hadewijch

The Auteurs Daily


"Following in the grand tradition of austere European filmmakers, Bruno Dumont gives religious faith quite a workout in his new film, Hadewijch," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone who's followed Dumont's career. One of French cinema's most illustrious provocateurs, Dumont has moved rather swiftly from contentious Cannes-winning enfant terrible (when his Humanité won three awards in 1999, including for his non-actor actors) to loathed international auteur (Twentynine Palms), while always finding transcendence in the oddest, most desolate, and often bloody, of places."

"Sure," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "Dumont loves his simpleton heroes - in this case Celine (Julie Sokolowski), a young woman whose devotion to Christ is intense enough to get her kicked out of a nunnery. Told by a Mother Superior that she needs to get out and discover how her faith might apply to the real world, Celine initially struggles to feel God's presence... but finds purpose once she connects with a pair of fundamentalist Muslims. It's at this point that Hadewijch takes a turn for the obvious, throwing away the mysteries of Celine's psyche for the sake of ham-handed sociopolitical commentary."

"Like Samuel Maoz's Lebanon, Dumont's film seems almost certain to be misconstrued by viewers who can't parcel out a movie's politics from their own," blogs LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "In Venice - a festival, along with Cannes, that reportedly passed on presenting Dumont's film - one French critic who hasn't yet seen Hadewijch herself told me she had heard it was deplorable in its one-sided depiction of Arabs as radicalizing terror-mongers. But to read the film through such a narrow prism would be to ignore the fact that Dumont's protagonist is a religious fanatic from the film's start, dismissed from the convent in part because she confuses acts of abstinence with those of martyrdom. So Hadewijch is less about a conversion than a sublimation, as one form of fanaticism gives way to another."

"[M]ercifully, Hadewijch mostly rejects the repellent man-as-bestial-predator worldview that suffocated Flanders and Twentynine Palms, allowing for a more nuanced, intelligent view of human thought, behavior and spirituality that's borderline generous by the helmer's standards," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Still, for all its formal beauty and uncompromising high-mindedness, Hadewijch never lends Celine's crisis the kind of harrowing moral urgency the Dardenne brothers achieve in their dramas, which are just as invested in matters of the soul but nowhere near as ponderously weighty."

"Dumont's shots of landscapes are so seductive that we begin to see divinity in the trees and hills," finds Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker.

Mike D'Angelo, writing at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, has "read at least three different interpretations of the film's perplexing coda, which makes no logical sense unless you conclude either (a) that it precedes certain other events chronologically (my initial assumption), or (b) that certain other events weren't real. Dumont even seems in a playful mood vis-á-vis his reputation, introducing one of his standard slope-browed, brutish males early on and then repeatedly cutting to that apparently irrelevant character's misadventures in and out of jail, encouraging the audience to steel ourselves for the inevitable nightmare we've come to expect from un film de Bruno. Instead - assuming in particular that option (a) above is correct, which is still my working hypothesis - he offers up the loveliest sick joke imaginable."



Updates, 9/29: Tom Hall: "Bruno Dumont's Hadewijch is certain to be one of the most misunderstood films of this or any year, a blistering counterpunch to the prevailing understanding of the influence of Robert Bresson in the cinema and in modern life."

Brandon Harris: "Huh? Wha? Really? French Catholic Girls for Jihad! I can see the t-shirts now. To say that Dumont doesn't earn this plot twist through the emotional mechanics of his characterizations is an understatement."

Updates, 10/1: Michael Guillén has a very fine interview with Dumont here at The Auteurs.

Meantime, James Hansen and, in Time Out New York, Joshua Rothkopf have a few brief comments on the film.

Update, 10/3: "The questions of faith, humanity and moral inquiry that inflect all of the director's work is constant," writes Patrick Z McGavin. "Fortunately the mannered self-laceration and martyrdom that has marred the director's previous couple of films is replaced by something tougher, more inscrutable and difficult to grasp."

Update, 10/4: "In Hadewijch we're invited to try and understand a young woman for her attributes and decisions, wrestling with our responses to her own, only to find our identification severely rebuffed," writes Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky. "If the routes Dumont takes to get us there constitute some of his least elegant, most ideologically debatable narrative passages, he also arrives at one of his most provocative existential inquiries into the nature of human violence yet."

Update, 10/6: "Though Dumont's doomed heroine in many ways recalls the soul-sick priest of Ambricourt in Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest," writes Simon Abrams for the L Magazine, "Celine's turmoil is filmed with a deceptive naturalism closer to Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc. Often filmed in close-up or static long takes, mostly with natural light, Celine looks every bit an icon of purity, tried by the paradox of looking for God in a place where he seems most absent."

Update, 10/10: "In its portrait of disaffected youth in the aftermath of traumatic history, Hadewijch converges towards The Devil, Probably, where revolution is borne of uncertainty and displaced passion," writes Acquarello. "However, inasmuch as Dumont invokes the spirit of Bresson throughout the film, the concluding shot of Céline by the river proves to be a subversion of the iconic sequence from Mouchette, achieving transcendence, not from immolation, but from salvation."

Update, 10/23: "If someone had told me before I went to see Hadewijch that it was 'The Trial of Joan of Arc meets Mouchette in the age of post-modern simulation,' then I could have imagined the flick in its entirety before I viewed it," blogs Stewart Home. "That said, the process of attending the screening was nonetheless worthwhile, albeit rather irritating."

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.



Audio of Q&A with Dumont following the world premier:
Very, very anticipatory about this one. All these negative & perplexed reviews make it sound all the more promising.
I saw this movie this week in San Sebatian and it blew me away. I had never seen a dumont film before and the theatre was packed. The film was amazing. For the descenting views, I think these are coming from critics that maybe had to watch way too many films in short spaces of time and didn’t care to think through the film. After thinking it over, I cannot saw enough good things about this film.
Alexander, I take heart from your comments. In the rush of words coming from these festivals one may not want to invest too much in these initial judgments. Dumont, no less than von Trier, doesn’t benefit much from hasty postings. Both are better served by time and reflection.

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