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Hadewijch (2009): Corpo Celine

Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont, 2009)

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Celine of God?

I know it’s a matter of proximity—I simply watched the two movies too close together to avoid it—but I can’t stop myself comparing Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch with Alice Rohrwacher’s 2011 film Corpo Celeste. Which probably isn’t as fair as it seems given that Corpo Celeste was released two years later, and given that the crises of faith suffered by its leads are polar opposites. But it stayed in the back of my mind the entire time I was watching this, and Hadewijch comes up short by every metric I can think of. Not to say it’s not worth watching, and if you haven’t seen Corpo Celeste you will probably dig it, but it seemed to me like there were too many times Dumont flirted with the idea of going there, wherever “there” was during a given scene, and then abandoned the idea for one reason or another.

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“Fly, little one! Fly and be free!”

If you’re catching this on Netflix Instant, you’re being skronked by a bad description, so let me help you out: Céline vel Hadewijch (Julie Sokolowski in her screen debut; rest assured we will be seeing more from her) is a novice in a French convent whose passionate devotion to Christ is found somewhat worrisome by the nuns. (The Netflix description gets that bit right.) In short, they kick her out and she returns to her family’s apartment in Paris, where she hooks up with her childhood friend Yassine (Yassine Salime, also making his screen debut). Yassine’s older brother Nassir (Karl Sarafidis, and you’ve heard this refrain before) is equally passionate about his religion, Islam, as Céline is about hers. That seems like it’s going exactly where you expect it to, but instead, the film plays with the idea of the star-crossed lovers; is their shared passion, which obviously translates to their interpersonal relationship, enough to overcome the differences in their doctrines?

This doesn’t stop Dumont from examining the religious differences, though he is committed to the idea that Christians and Muslims are far more similar than they are different (and rightly so). Sokolowski shines here, easily the best of the principals, but both Salime (the only one of the three who has not gone on to act again since) and Sarafidis both turn in good performances as well. But that comparison kept haunting me, and if I start delving too deep into the reasons for that we get deep into spoiler territory. Without trashing too much of the plot, I’ll say that Dumont here shares that strong Tarr influence that Rohrwacher showed, though Dumont puts that climactic Tarr-trademark scene almost at the end of his film (thus my wariness of getting into spoiler territory).

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“I’m pretty sure this is NOT what they had in mind when talking about baptism.”

I have to say, while reading up on the movie in the midst of writing this review, I found out that Céline vel Hadewijch was in fact a 13th-century mystic [], which helps some of the film’s setup make a little more sense and, at least for me, increases the inherently interesting nature of the material; your mileage may vary. But, as I’ve alluded to a couple of times in this review, there were too many places—especially in the possible-romance subplot (which may not be a subplot at all, but the movie’s central conceit, depending on how you look at it)—where it felt to me as if Bruno Dumont toyed with the idea of exploring certain avenues further and then ultimately ditched the idea; a character will make an offhand remark that could open up whole new vistas, and then it’s just left to die on the vine. Going down some of those side streets might have made this a much better film than it is, but what we got is worth a watch. Do yourself a favor and watch Corpo Celeste afterwards, if you haven’t already seen it. ** ½

Trailer. Engsubbed, even.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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