"Hadewijch": A nun is tested, with disturbing results

A nun sets out to rediscover herself.
A nun sets out to rediscover herself.

With excessive ardency and prayers addressing Christ like an absent lover, postulant nun Celine (Julie Sokolowski) draws the disapproval of mother superior, who calls the girl "a caricature of a nun," and sends her out to rediscover herself in the world. Writer-director Bruno Dumont, with his great capacity for translating environment to the screen, shows a quietly crumbling European Christianity in wintertime, of empty seats in houses of worship held together with scaffolding. Back at her palatial family flat, Celine rejects her posh background for friendships in the Arab banlieue. Told with brusque ellipsis and unusually expressive close-ups — Sokolowski is as vivid as a hunted animal in her death throes — the tale of Celine's exploring the outside world is impregnated with the anxious sense of waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Dumont teases at length the viewer's protective instinct toward his heroine, who has no sense of self-preservation of her own — then jerks a hard turn, reminding us that we should fear innocence as much as fear for it. Hadewijch follows the director's philosophy of rugged, squalid secular humanism into an abrupt, uncoordinated salvation scene — but not even that lapse can dispel the lingering effect of the perturbing, harsh images that preceded it.

 
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