Hadewijch, or Bruno Dumont at the London Film Festival

Hadewijch is the latest film from Bruno Dumont, a former philosophy lecturer whose movies are often compared to the work of Robert Bresson. Dumont doesn’t so much take inspiration from Bresson, as allow the older man’s films to possess his own, so that he might correct their faults. 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. That said, the process of attending the screening was nonetheless worthwhile, albeit rather irritating.
It was difficult to get into the Vue in Leicester Square due to a simultaneous premier for a very boring British film set in Twickenham in the early sixties. The crowds and the cops were out in force, and I had to get past some ridiculously heavy security before being allowed anywhere near the multi-screen Vue. Thus after much hassle and finally seated, I realised I hadn’t seen a Dumont flick since his big screen debut, The Life Of Jesus, came out a decade or more before.
Hadewijch is inspired by the writings of a 13 century Flemish mystic of this name, a rich but nonetheless hip chick who liked to eroticise her relationship with ‘God’ and ‘Christ’ by foaming at the mouth until the resulting insanity poured forth from her pen. Hadewijch’s religious pornography took the forms of poetry, letters and written records of visions; and these mystical freak-outs might be likened to free spirit heresies. But while this provided Dumont with his initial inspiration, he sets his film in contemporary France.
The plot of Hadewijch isn’t of much consequence. Celine (Julie Sokolowski) is booted out of a nunnery for being too zealous. She returns to her parent’s opulent apartment. The 20 year-old Jesus freak then hangs out in and around her Parisian home; she meets Yassine (Yassine Salihine), an unemployed teenager from the suburbs who wants to get it one with her, but they never do anything more intimate than embrace. However, in Yassine’s brother Nassir (Karl Sarafidis) she recognises a kindred spirit, a fellow religious nut. Nassir tells Celine about Islam and then takes her to Lebanon; when they return to Paris they ‘matyr’ themselves by performing a two person suicide bombing on a metro train. If this were a realist film, then the explosion would be the end of the movie, but Dumont’s speciality is a Baudrillardian simulation of realism, and there is a lose thread to tie-up in the form of a character called David (David Dewaele).
At the beginning of the film, David is a prisoner doing restoration work on the nunnery from which Celine is expelled. He is also framed at various times to look rather like the image of Christ in various Dutch old masters. A succession of scenes indicate that he is a conflation of both Christ and the thieves on the crosses beside the Toad Of Nazareth at the time of ‘The Crucifiction’. I assume Dumont is inviting viewers to recall Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, and even if he isn’t, this is what the depiction of David brought to my mind; in other words, religion is an alienated projection of human attributes into a bogus realm of ‘the sacred’.
After the explosion (i.e. after Celine and Nassir’s implied but not explicitly depicted deaths), Celine and David appear back at the nunnery, but rather than it being winter – as was the case when we first saw them there – it is now spring. Celine attempts to drown herself in a pond but is saved by David. The series of events that take place after the explosion clearly confused much of the audience and became a focus for questions to the director during his Q & A session. I wasn’t feeling engaged enough to point out that the failed drowning rather too self-consciously invokes the climax of Bresson’s Mouchette. My unwillingness to join the discussion stemmed in part from Dumont’s answers exuding the rotten-egg smell of what is sometimes labelled ‘the anxiety of influence’, and this made what he did say so boring that I left before he finished._
Nonetheless, a director like Dumont becomes significant when you see how many of the people attending his screenings don’t understand that film as a medium need not be restricted to utterly flat realist narratives; and is, in any case, better understood as ‘poetic’ images. Quite a few people walked out during the festival screening of Hadewijch I attended. I like the effect Dumont has on audiences considerably more than his movies – which are still too tastefully made to shake up the film world as much as I’d like.
After seeing Hadewijch, I found myself imagining an alternative version in which Celine was a white rasta rather than a catholic, who is loosely modelled on Gale Benson (the daughter of a British Tory politician murdered at Michael X’s black power commune in Trinidad); this would also allow for a heavy dub soundtrack rather than the shit classical music Dumont favoured. Such a venture is not something I can imagine Dumont carrying off successfully – and so, instead, I look forward to him making a Deulezian cross between my two favourite Bresson movies A Man Escaped and Pickpocket. Dumont remains the Jean-Philippe Toussaint of contemporary French language film. Good as far as he goes, but cinema will leave him behind when we force it to go much further….
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Frank Discussion on 2009-10-22 20:27:21 +0000

Well at least Dumont is not afraid of explicit sex, although there’s none in this movie – but his religious obsessions are a bit sad. For a corrective just wait till you see my project “Amor y Saqueo” (Love and Looting) – a charming tale of a young girl who finds happiness through wholesale destruction, theft, sabotage and, of course, looting.

Comment by This Is Not Jerry Dammers on 2009-10-22 20:57:07 +0000

Now I know that, now I understand….

Comment by Cesar A. Romero on 2009-10-22 21:23:17 +0000

I caught botulism from the popcorn I consumed while watching this movie at the New York Film Festival, and ended up going around for several days thinking I was a train while shouting toot toot as loud as I could – it was a great experience, so I’d recommend Bruno Dumont to anyone!

Comment by msmarmitelover on 2009-10-22 23:17:43 +0000

Sounds interesting. I love Bresson.

Comment by Michael Roth on 2009-10-23 03:40:33 +0000

I was once booted out of a nunnery for being too zealous, as well. Not religiously zealous, mind you …

Comment by Zen Master K on 2009-10-23 08:52:47 +0000

I watched “Deep Throat” with Linda Lovelace again last night, I don’t think cinema can get more hardcore than that! The version with the 18 BBFC certificate is particularly good since the distributors have obscured all the sex to get it past the censors and this turns it into an avant-garde classic! That’s the version I like to watch – the one where you can see the deep throat action has no mystery and consequently is very boring!

Comment by Mario Mentrup on 2009-10-23 09:29:02 +0000

i hate this catholic prick!

Comment by Georges Sorel on 2009-10-23 09:46:25 +0000

violence, did somebody mention violence?

Comment by Stive Bators on 2009-10-23 10:08:44 +0000

I don’t wanna be no Catholic boy
I just wanna have some fun
I don’t wanna be no Catholic boy
And get beat by the nuns
I don’t wanna kneel, I don’t wanna feel
Guilty supression
I wanna beat my meat right in the street
Dominus vobiscum

Comment by adam ant on 2009-10-23 13:31:30 +0000

beat my guest!

Comment by oldrope on 2009-10-23 15:58:08 +0000

This film sounds too much like my life to make for comfortable viewing. Does it adequately render the sacrement of Confirmation? I hope so.
And the reason you had to fight such security Trip is that they know your sort.
In fact you probably just happened to walk past BBC Television Centre last night and suddenly there were shedloads of coppers and hundreds of placard wavers. The coppers I can understand, they’ve been tapping you for years. The placardians? They must have some sort of wannabe flashmobbing thing going on… and spying on you as well, obviously

Comment by The Utterly Fake Colin McCabe on 2009-10-23 17:17:46 +0000

Are you all on drugs? Nothing any of you say makes any sense! How is a long term Labour Party member who tore up his card three years ago and who love Jean- Luc Godard supposed to make any sense of the world today?

Comment by I Was Laura Mulvy’s Body Double on 2009-10-23 17:58:36 +0000

McCabe you idiot, they’re obviously a bunch of working class oiks so they’re bound to be drunk and on drugs. It is up to progressive members of the bourgeoisie to save the working class from itself – Freud, Gucci and Godard united in muddle….

Comment by The Bootleg Sir Christopher Freyling on 2009-10-23 18:56:08 +0000

I am a British educationalist and writer, known for my studies of popular culture, and I don’t see how any of you can expect to have a serious discussion of Bruno Dumont’s film without referring explicitly to my film studies tomes “Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone” (1981), “American Westerners” (1984), “Clint Eastwood” (1992), “Sergio Leone: Something To Do With Death” (2000), “Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema” (2005), “Sergio Leone: Once Upon a Time in Italy” (2005) and “Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design” (2005).
BTW: Did you know I was also Chairman of Arts Council England until 2007, Chairman of the Design Council, Chairman of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, and a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was a governor of the British Film Institute in the 1980s, and director of The Royal College of Art until the current academic year.
I was awarded a knighthood in 2001 for “Services to Art and Design Education” and chose “PERGE SCELUS MIHI DIEM PERFICIAS” as my motto, which translates as “Proceed, varlet, and let the day be rendered perfect for my benefit”. In more modern English, the phrase would say: “Go ahead, punk, make my day”.
So those former colleagues of mine who were claiming as recently as last night that I am ‘a certified moron’, need to ask themselves one question: “Do you feel lucky punk? Well do you?”

Comment by The Man in the Iron Mask on 2009-10-26 18:30:05 +0000

Jim Carroll has a thing or two to say about Catholic Boys too…

Comment by The Man in the Iron Mask on 2009-10-27 21:45:57 +0000

Was picking up on Stiv Bators of course, not Sir Chris F though I did once catch him on tv flouncing about in a monastery…
Colin McCabe’s telephone manner is one of the worst I’ve ever heard. I had to listen to 2 mins of him hyperventilating about Derek Jarman before I could get a word in edgeways: Sorry but you’re talking to the wrong person. He was not in the least apologetic but rang off before I could say: Fat arrogant cunt.
Yes, I’d like to see a film with nothing but heavy dub on the sound-track – Lee Perry, King Tubby et al and lashings of Big Youth, Keith Hudson and Augustus Pablo.

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