#97 - Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont)

note: article contains spoilers


 A Mirror

“Hors Satan” made enough of an impression on me that I had to look up more films of Bruno Dumont, and by no real logic I picked “Hadewijch” to watch next  - I think the only real reasoning for picking this one was that I kind of liked the poster. But also the odd title spiked my curiosity a little, and after watching the film last night I still didn’t know what it exactly meant. I noticed that both a major location and the protagonist where sometimes referred to by the name of Hadewijch in the film, but after the film was over a quick Google search revealed more.
It seems that Hadewijch is a name of a female medieval poet who probably came from wealth, was not a nun but had an obsessive love of God that she displayed in her poetry. All this is also very descriptive of Celine, the young protagonist of this film, only that Celine seems to be the contemporary incarnation of this character. And we meet Celine as she is living in the cloister with nuns who soon expel her because of her obsessive devotion to God that goes beyond the convent’s rulings, as she was endangering her own well being with religious penance. And as the film goes along we learn the nature and the extent of her religious fanaticism.

So even very early on it is obvious that Celine’s faith has a fanatical side to it but her struggle (something that every fanatic needs) seems to be purely psychological and primarily in the form of sexual repression. Celine meets a young Muslim boy named Yassine, who she likes quite a bit but refuses his more intimate advances. She proudly says that she is a virgin and plans to remain as such, declaring her love only for Christ and that she’s here for him. However Christ never comes.
I am very tempted here to go on a tangent about the film’s ending and what I think it all means, but as it’s the case with “Hors Satan” it is a very contemplative ending that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, both serving religious and atheist views. And for me the most fun part, and to a certain degree the point of a film like this, is to find your own interpretation of what it all means. But then again the fun part is also to discuss the meaning and hear what other people think of it. So in the spirit of discussion I will say what I got from this film, but I stress that this is by no means a definitive answer. I actually think that there is no such thing as a definitive answer that will serve all comers and that everyone will take away something else from a film like this. Anyway, what follows are of course heavy spoilers.

So my interpretation of the film is that Celine finds kinship in the religious zeal of Nassir (Yassine’s more radical brother) and interprets a sunny patch in the sky as a sign of God to help him. But there was no real sign of God and even when she does perform the terrorist act she is still lacking the closeness to God and (sexual) fulfillment that she thought she’d miraculously get, so Celine decides to kill herself. The blunt point here being that there is no God. However once she drowns she is rescued by David, meaning that you can’t have faith in God but can have faith in humanity. Because David did not only rescues her, which her God failed to do despite heavy duty prayers, but he can also give her what she actually needs (wink wink, nudge nudge).
Of course David’s last minute rescue could be interpreted as an act of God, but I guess that my more religiously skeptical convictions lead me towards this kind of interpretation. It is also worth noting that the only music that plays in this film is during these end scenes, giving them a more spiritual and a more emotional texture, which stylistically removes them ever so subtly from the bare realism of the rest of the film.

But as I said that was only my interpretation of a film that is by design meant to be like a mirror that reflects the values of the person that is watching it. And this means that just like “Hors Satan” this is a film that demands to be met halfway, you need to engage it and think about what’s going on, otherwise it will all seem pointless and frustrating. Personally I am loving these films, and my appetite for films like “Hadewijch” is only growing the more I am exposed to them.


Julie Sokolowski - Hadewijch / Celine
Yassine Salime - Yassine Chikh
Karl Sarafidis - Nassir Chikh
David Dewaele - David

Original language: French

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