Following in the grand tradition of austere European filmmakers, Bruno Dumont gives religious faith quite a workout in his new film, Hadewijch. 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 moved rather swiftly from contentious Cannes-winning enfant terrible (when his Humanité won three awards in 1999, including for his non-actor actors, the boos were reportedly as vociferous as the applause) to loathed international auteur (Twentynine Palms, though a far more profound battle of the sexes horror show than Antichrist, was wished away by just about everyone), while always finding transcendence in the oddest, most desolate, and often bloody, of places.
Narratively, Hadewijch finds Dumont on unexpectedly direct and accessible ground, even if at film’s end there remains a baffling opaqueness, both in terms of the director’s and the characters’ motivations. Thought-provoking, troubling, and inevitably frightening, it provides the most overt psychological portraiture yet seen in a Dumont work. Whereas normally the filmmaker’s Bressonian instincts and predilection for grandiose statement making (about capital-letter topics as large and impossible to pin down as War, the West, and Race) disallow his characters of being much more than archetypes, or, to be less charitable, cutouts, the main character of this film, Celine, played magnificently by Julie Sokolowski, feels like perhaps his first fully rounded, intensely personalized creature. That said, she’s also unknowable, and perhaps capable of the unthinkable, a tension that makes this, in some ways, Dumont’s most discomfiting film. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Hadewijch.