Thursday, July 1, 2021


Bruno Dumont spent the majority of the aughts avoiding the burden of being compared to Robert Bresson only to finish out the decade with an undeniably Bresson-esque film in the form of Hadewijch. Outside of themes concerning religion and the questioning of faith, Hadewijch ends with the main character trying to drown herself, which, when you take in to account his (sometimes forced) relationship with Bresson, makes one think of the final scene in Mouchette.

Dumont begrudgingly acknowledges why and where the Mouchette connection would come about, but he also adds on to that…

People tell me there is a reference to Mouchette in the fact that Céline tries to drown herself in the pond at the end - Bruno Dumont

Mouchette / Hadewijch

but I was just reading yesterday that the Beguines, the religious movement to which the real Hadewijch belonged—the nuns were drowned, so there is a reference to that as well and it’s going back much further. So, I think it is unfortunate that the imagination of so many spectators and critics begins with Bresson. It’s important to go beyond that, far beyond that, but I can’t help that in any way - Bruno Dumont

Mouchette / Hadewijch

Mouchette /

While Hadewijch is filled with scenes of deadpan faced nuns roaming through churches that might remind someone of Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest or his somewhat forgotten debut Angels Of Sin - this is still very much a Bruno Dumont film. The story follows a young would-be nun (Celine) who is expelled from her church because her extreme faith is deemed too dangerous even for the church (she starves herself, stands in the cold rain for long periods of time, etc, all in the name of Jesus Christ). It’s pretty clear that Celine loves Jesus and not just in a religious way. She has a dangerous borderline erotic fascination. And because she’s never known true romance (or even had a normal crush), her love is expressed in an unhealthy manner. 
I think without even meaning to do so Dumont addresses the root of where so much sexual repression comes from among nuns & priests in the church. They’re sometimes stunted emotionally when it comes to that part of life so they express themselves in ways only a repressed person would (violence, abuse, etc).
These are all things outside of Bresson's wheelhouse for the most part...

Dumont’s work has, of course, evolved over the years, while still retaining his signature materialism, a focus on how his characters are both burdened by and manipulate the physical stuff of the world around them. This has led to endless Bresson comparisons, and while Dumont is without a doubt a student of Le Maître Robert, the very opening of L’humanité (1999) demonstrates Dumont’s specific cinematic rendering of gravity’s force. Det. Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotté), running away from a crime scene, stumbles and lies with his face in the mud; the man is brought to earth with a thump, and then he simply settles, as if absorbed by the earth’s force of stasis. This is miles away from the lithe, balletic movement of objects or gestures in Bresson - CinemaScope

The biggest non-Bresson element in Hadewijch is Celine falling in with a group of extreme Muslims after being expelled from her church. This part of the story comes out of nowhere at first, but when you go back to Celine’s love of Jesus and her being kicked out of the church for being “too extreme”, it’s almost like a break up story. The “crazy ex” Celine has been dumped so she acts out in a fit of rage & jealousy by linking up/flirting with Allah.
This may seem silly to a rational-thinking person but Celine is a dangerous mixture of extreme & naive. She’s a scorned teenager who’s essentially been broken up with so she’s running to the arms of who she feels is the “enemy” of her ex in order to get attention.

Dumont’s underlying fascination with Muslim culture since day one has always intrigued me. From the Kader character in The Life Of Jesus to the characters in Flanders going off to war in the Middle East, there’s always been an outsider's fascination. I’m not saying I’d like Dumont to make a film that fully focuses on Muslim characters & Muslim culture (that could end up being a disaster), but there’s still something there that he clearly wants to explore more but doesn't fully know how..

I revisited Hadewijch last year and gained a new appreciation & understanding for it. To me, this marks where Dumont finally found his stride/“style”. That’s not to say earlier works like The Life Of Jesus and L’Humanite don’t take place in the same universe as Hadewijch (and there are some common Dumont-isms in Twentynine Palms & Flanders as well), but every Dumont film that came after Hadewijch had heavy strands of the same DNA in them where his previous couple of films did not.


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