Friday, December 24, 2010

Bruno Dumont's HADEWIJCH: Thank god it's opening in time for the religious holiday

Was Humanité just an over-rated fluke? It's beginning to look more and more likely. With each new film that Bruno Dumont serves up -- Twentynine Palms, Flanders and now HADEWIJCH -- it's is becoming clearer that this fellow has little understanding of how human beings behave or the world works. Consequently, the filmmaker, pictured below, busies himself with rank outsiders: "others" who don't/won't/can't fit in -- working, I guess, from the premise that, if you get as far away as possible from anything remotely resembling normalcy, maybe viewers won't notice how false your characters really are. This would be true for the uber-quirky couple (not to mention the titular community) shown in Twentynine Palms; another couple, this time nearing the brain-dead, in Flanders (and, oh, that atrociously-imagined middle-eastern "war"); and now the religious nut and her zombie family in his new one.

In addition to presenting us with bizarre, cliched (but unreal nonetheless) characters, Dumont likes to insert a heavy-duty subject into the mix: rape and murder in Humanité, more ultra-violence in Twentynine Palms, the war in Flanders, and now religion -- and, oh, yes, terrorism -- in Hadewijch. You can't say that this guy doesn't go for the zeitgeist! If TrustMovies is being crueler than usual here, he also admits that, though he enjoyed (he is stretching that verb hugely) Flanders no more than he did Twentynine Palms, he has now found Hadewijch a bit better than either of the earlier films. Another ten, twenty more movies from Dumont, and who knows how high the enjoyment level will have bubbled.

In Hadewijch -- the name doubles as the moniker of a mystic from centuries past, whom the title charac-ter, Celine, appears to be aping in her quest for the love of Jesus -- we are confronted with another over-the-top character who has such weird ideas of religion and faith (and most everything else, actually) that we can only wonder how she had avoided an asylum until now. Her family, very wealthy, appears as clueless in its way as Celine is in her own.

Into this less-than-believable situation, arrives an Algerian kid from the banlieues, whom Celine comes across (in the Dumont version of meet-cute) and brings home to lunch. Yes!  He in turn introduces her to his brother, a stoic and deeply religious Muslim who is involved in -- not theater, not manufacturing, not running the local Mail Box Express (like a Muslim friend I have here in Jackson Heights). Come on, people: Put on those thinking caps. What else would any self-respecting Muslim be concerned with but -- of course -- terrorism.

Soon, our Celine -- a girl so utterly uncertain of her own ideas that she makes your everyday sheep look like William the Conquerer -- is knee-deep in oh my goodness. And where does religion fit into all of this? Don't ask. Ah, but our Celine certainly does. By the finale I think you might just say that our lass has found... redemption.  Or, as I am fond of calling this sort of thing, re-dumb-tion.

However you choose to view the movie's conclusion, you will probably arise from your seat, shaking your head in amazement, and murmuring, "WTF. Dumont has done it again!"  Now, among all this nonsense, there are some good things to be seen.  The film's cinematography is sterling (by the director's oft-time collaborator Yves Cape), and the filmmaker does have a feel for interesting faces (if not any particular acting ability) like that of his leading lady, newcomer Julie Sokolowski. To be fair, the girl has been given a role of which even a young Meryl Streep might have found it difficult to make much sense.

Dumont has chosen for his locations, as usual, nature and some fairly dismal housing projects, but this time, into the mix he has tossed a fabulous apartment, Celine's home (shown above) -- which makes a nice visual change from the rest of the film -- and, in fact, the rest of his oeuvre.

So forget Santa and just go with god, as Hadewijch, from IFC Films, opens today, December 24, in New York City at the IFC Center, with three showings daily. You can check the performance schedule here.  And if you can't wait -- or can't get into Manhattan -- the movie is already available via IFC On-Demand.  Click the link at left to determine if and how you can get it.

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