Hadewijch Movie Review: Religion, Erotic Impulse, And Raging Teen Hormones

There’s something inevitably artificial, however dramatically involving about the procession of traditional narratives in movies. Because life, more aligned with say literature, evolves in a decidedly more enigmatic, fragmented and chaotic manner. Such is the nature of the youthful spiritual odyssey, Hadewijch, alternately enchanting and teasing audiences with its frequently mute, episodic, internalized emotional fragments flowing forth. In other words, no mere couch potato entertainment experience, Hadewijch demands of the audience an interactive, more questions raised than answered involvement.

Written and directed by Bruno Dumont (La Vie de Jesus, Humanite, Twenty-Nine Palms, Flanders) Hadejewijch stars Julie Sokolowski as highly impressionable, impulsive French youth Celine, who seems to have fallen in love literally with Jesus. Leaving her immensely affluent home, likely to the dismay of her high ranking minister father, Celine signs up as a novice nun at a country convent where she intends to be born again as Sister Hadewijch, the name of a 13th century Dutch mystic likewise confusing romance with spiritual devotion.

But the head nuns are disturbed by the girl’s fanaticism which seems to include determined anorexia as expression of an infatuated spiritual sacrifice to Jesus. So Celine is ordered to leave the convent, possibly return when she’s experienced the real world a bit more and perhaps moved on past her crush on God. Heartbroken, confused and still frustrated over her unrequited overtures to Jesus, Celine searches somewhat frantically for the object of her subliminal desire. And eventually drifting into a radical fundamentalist Muslim enclave poised for a violent expression of spiritual sacrifice that she hopes will finally get her in touch with that elusive diety, by proving her love through an extreme act driven by passion.

Religious obsession meets raging teen hormones in Hadewijch, not always with clarity and decidedly on the pathological if not kooky erotic side. But the very intimately conveyed experience of this emotionally disintegrating female elicits much food for thought about the psychological roots of unhealthy extremes linking disparate faiths, and how that can serve as both healing and horror for the distraught human soul.

IFC Films


2 1/2 stars