The chilling Hadewijch wonders if Islamic extremism and Christian fundamentalism are that far apart 

Losing My Religion

Losing My Religion

At the heart of Bruno Dumont's deeply unsettling Hadewijch is a provocative idea: No matter what the faith, religious fundamentalism taken to its extreme is a form of arrogance. The young novice Céline (Julie Sokolowsi, in a staggering performance) is completely sure of herself in her submission to the Divine — so much so that her agonizing (self-) righteousness is too much even for the convent she's been living in. So the sisters send her out into the world, to find her place.

She has no commonality with her parents, she's not particularly good at making friends, and there's no order in her life now that she's been cut off from the convent's reassuring absolutes. Fortunately, she meets a pair of brothers (Yassine Salime and Karl Sarafidis) who feel similarly alienated from modern society by their religious devotion. But because this is a Bruno Dumont film, there's little comfort to be taken in the newfound purpose they bring her.

The French director loves exploring people's sojourns on the edge of insanity. Like his 1999 masterpiece L'Humanité, Hadewijch intends a serious dialogue about spiritual issues without lapsing into dogma or hewing to the accepted parameters of religious films (e.g. reductive gender issues and the occasional CG-animated interventionist hand of God). So when Celine seeks an outlet for her consuming devotion, it's not hope or charity that reaches out for her but the pull of violent extremism. And it sweeps her into madness.

As upsetting as the girl's path becomes, Hadewijch as a film is completely rooted in the concept of divine grace. Not even The Tree of Life is willing to address the idea in as risky a fashion as this low-key French import, and its perspective on how radical Islam and Christian fundamentalism intertwine will infuriate some viewers. But if you accept the tenets of universal forgiveness, well, this film means to test how strongly you hold those beliefs. Much respect to Vanderbilt's International Lens program for bringing this majestic achievement to Nashville audiences.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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