The Sapir College faculty member who introduced Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch, screened at this year’s Cinema South Festival in Sderot, said that Dumont seeks in his films to understand the intricacies and intimacies of religious faith. Hadewijch is a technically fine, formally intriguing film, one in which it is clear that the director has given great thought to each shot and frame. But for a film about faith it is curiously soulless.
The story is about a girl named Celine, who has, as a pre-novice at a convent, taken the religious name Hadewijch, after a medieval visionary who wrote of her passion for Jesus. Her superiors, worried at her over-asceticism, send her back to her huge, ornate, and loveless home. For a convent girl, she has surprisingly few compunctions about allowing herself to be picked up in a café by a low-life from the projects whose devout Muslim brother convinces her to take part in a terror operation. Throughout her preparations, and in the film’s coda, in which Celine seems somehow to have survived the explosion, she insists that her only great love is for Jesus. We see that love, but we do not feel it.
The next day’s screening of Dumont’s Flanders left me with the same sense that Dumont’s carefully planned exteriors do not connect with the interiors of his characters.