The film is about Céline, a young novice who shocks the mother superior of her convent with her ecstatic blind faith. For her own good she's expelled from the order.
‘Hadewijch’ combines spiritual, religious, existential and political themes, so that makes for a rather challenging viewing! Not in the sense that you won’t like the movie, I think you will appreciate the pace, which is somewhat slow, meditative, but very comfortable, and the pictures, which are very clear and detailed. It results in an intimate connection with the main character Céline. Since there is hardly a scène without her, she has to intrigue us in order for the story to succeed. The director manages to do so by way of his filming and storytelling. He pulls us towards her.
The movie is technically accessible, but thematically challenging. The meaning of the individual scenes and the overall direction of the story can elude you sometimes, and especially the ending is very enigmatic, maybe confusing even. I’m not going to explain the movie, that would do unjust to the story which is about God in a sense, but not about understanding God, but experiencing Him. I am going to give you a couple ‘handles’ though, so it will be a little easier for you to give meaning to the individual scenes and the story as a whole:
The movie isn’t
named ‘Hadewijch’ without a reason off course. Hadewijch is a rather known
mystica in these parts of northern Europe. She
lived in the early 13th century. She could read and write, in three
languages, Dutch, French and Latin, was known with literature, both the profane
and the religious, and her own writing shows knowledge of the courtly manners. So
it’s very likely she was of nobility. Yet like a notable amount of
contemporary, noble women, she chose to live a life of celibacy and enter a
convent. This wasn’t expected of them at all, until this day it’s a bit unclear
to scholars why so many noble women in that particular period entered the
The girl in the movie is named Céline, which means ‘heavenly’. She also has the desire to live a life of celibacy and enter a convent, and the new name she chooses for herself is ‘Hadewijch’. Céline is the daughter of a minister, a member of the French parliament. So although she isn’t of nobility per se, she is definitely born in the more exclusive echelons of society. Just like the mystica Hadewijch. The similarity between both characters is obvious.
The mystica Hadewijch from the 13th century lead a pious life of prayer and most notably writing. Until this day she is known for her lyrical and loving, but also tragic search for the intimacy with God. This is a recurring theme in the writings of all the mystics: the desire to become one with God, to be united in His divine love, but ultimately the impossibility to experience or achieve this intimate bonding here on earth. The famous mystic St. John of the Cross described this as the ‘dark night of the human soul’. Other mystics who wrote about this intense experience of loneliness and the absence of God are for example St. Hildegard von Bingen, St. Therese of Lisieux and also mother Theresa.
The confronting question we have to ask ourselves as modern people is: is this experience of the absence of God, simply caused by the fact that He doesn’t exist, or is it in His divine nature that He ultimately eludes us here one earth, until we are fully and finally reunited with Him in heaven? This question is the fundament of Céline’s life, search and struggle. A fellow searcher for God who she meets, the intense and charismatic muslim Nassir, describes it as the 'invisibility of God': He is near in His apparent absence, He accompanies you, even when you can’t see or feel Him. God is the transcendent. He only manifests Himself in our prayer and adoration, especially when we endure the experience of the dark night of the human soul, the utter experience of His absence.
Now this is pretty intense, isn’t it? Do we or don’t we agree with his statement about the near but invisible God? Do we or don’t we agree with the words and wisdom of the mystics? Is Céline weird or wonderful? Is she a saint or insane? Your answer to these questions will determine the meaning of the end of the movie.
- pastoraal werker Yuri Saris
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