Before one even steps into the theater, before one even buys their ticket, one is instantly mesmerized by the poster for Bruno Dumont's latest work, Hadewijch. Simple and stunning, we see the face of the titular star of Mr. Dumont's film, and first-time actress Julie Sokolowski, her features illuminated from an almost otherworldly seeming light source, making her already beautiful, expressive, and quite untainted face seem beatific, perhaps even angelic. The imagery of Bresson, already known as a heavy influence on the director's work, comes to veritable life in Ms. Sokolowski's heavenly face and eyes (eyes given life as if created by God, in the style of Man Ray) and in the rapturous stare of complete and utter belief in God, that is the very core of the her character and the film itself. One could easily see this young woman in the throes of spiritual turmoil that was and is the cinema of Robert Bresson. And all this happens before you even buy your ticket. Just try to imagine what comes after.
Actually being equal parts Bresson and The Brothers Dardenne (a more contemporary influence, or pair of influences, of the director), Hadewijch, both the film and the character, spends her/its time split between a meandering sense of urgency and a deep-seeded need for divine guidance. Dumont delivers both with extreme control over his subject, while simultaneously giving her/it the room needed to express such resonating emotionality inside such an overly demanding world wherein Hadewijch lives. The story of a young novice, would-be nun, who has taken on a hunger strike in order to be closer to God, Hadewijch, the child of wealthy parents, is forced to leave her convent for her own safety and try to make it on the outside world. Once in this cold, outside world (a world in which she has the opportunity to live a carefree, well-off existence if so desired) Hadewijch becomes the not-so-obscure object of desire (yes, Bunuel can be considered yet another influence on the director) of a young Muslim man, and in turn, an innocent pawn in the actions of his older, more militant brother.
A gorgeously designed film in both visual splendor and emotional resonance, Bruno Dumont, with his reputation for being one of the more provocative auteurs on the scene, keeps his latest work straddling the proverbial fence between wanton desire and foreboding tragedy. As the film progresses, and the young, beautiful, and quite trusting Hadewijch delves deeper and deeper into not only her own Catholicism, but the Islamic studies of her new, infatuated friend, with every turn of the corner, and every twist of the camera, we hold our breath for the tragic ending, or at the very least, near-ending, that seems to come to all of Dumont's characters eventually. We watch and wait for the hammer to fall, the other shoe to drop, the proverbial Sword of Damocles to come crashing down upon our poor, naive young protagonist. The wait, just like the film itself, is both excruciating and illuminating. [01/09/11]