San Sebastian Film Festival: Day Five

Hadewijch, Jim Jarmusch and The Limits Of Control

by Amber Wilkinson

I don't know whether it was partially due to the warm memory of Get Low that remained with me as I headed to see Bruno Dumont's latest Hadewijch this morning, but I struggled to cope with its cinematic coldness. In the spirit of fessing up, I have to admit to never having seen any of his previous work, although I know it comes with a warning of 'aloofness'. Many have said this is his most accessible piece and, if that is the case, I won't be rushing to catch up on his back catalogue. Which is not to say that, in terms of cinematic craft, there isn't a great deal to admire.

Hadewijch is essentially, an exploration of religious fanaticism, told mostly from the point of view of 'heroine' Celine - a novitiate nun who, when we meet her, is in the process of being thrust out of the convent and back into the real world because of her inability to moderate her actions. She regularly mortifies herself and refuses to eat, which the Mother Superior sees as signs of 'self-love'.

Back in the near-baronial settings of her home, she wiles away her days watching TV and doing little until a chance encounter sees her befriend Muslim Yassine (Yassine Salihine). Through him, she comes to meet his brother Nassir (Karl Sarafidis), and the pair of them find common ground through their deeply religious viewpoints... common ground which may not have an entirely altruistic outcome.

From its cool colour palette to its pale and wan central protagonist, Dumont's film is the very essence of sad, exploring the notion that deeply held faith may lead as quickly to despair as to delight. In the central role, Julie Sokolowski is nothing short of amazing, especially for a first-timer and as Dumont's camera hugs her every move, it is impossible not to see the depths of her pain. That said, seeing is not necessarily feeling and, despite the bravura performance, the overall film still feels coldly clinical and difficult to connect with on an emotional level.

I followed up my screening with an abortive attempt to see A Prophet. I had been planning to battle my way through it with the simultaneous English language translation but, when the headset stubbornly refused to work, I decided it was fate telling me to watch it with English subtitles at a later date.

I just caught one other film today, the stylish and uber-cool Limits Of Control - which was introduced by Jim Jarmusch to a very receptive crowd. He says his decision to shoot much of the film in Spain was a direct response to having being in San Sebastian and Madrid and thats that this is why it was important to come back and show the film here.

He adds: We hope that our film is our way of trying to create a poem, to create an exploanation of the possibilities of a dream."

Finally, he instructs us: "Don't think too much, have a good dream."

It's good advice, since there is definitely a dream-like quality to the action - which traces a matchbox-swapping hitman as he makes his way to his latest kill. The film plays out like a mash-up between Ghost Dog and Coffee And Cigarettes, although it is not as gripping as the former nor as patchy as the latter.

Isaach De Bankolé, as the Lone Man, is the epitome of cool and has only three rules - "no guns, no mobiles, no sex". The film is deliberately eliptical, with each of his encounters involving the drinking of "two esspressos in two cups" and his contacts asking him: "You don't speak Spanish do you?" The effect of this is culmulative, Tilda Swinton in a trashy cyberpunk outfit seems almost like another incarnation of Paz de la Huerta, who turns up scantily clad periodically to not have sex with our loner. On the one had, the presence of so many well-known faces - including Bill Murray, Gael Garcia Bernal and John Hurt, might seem like overkill, but on the other, this is just the sort of fantastical assemblage that you might put together in a dream.

Is there a deep and hidden meaning to all of this? I would say not, it plays out more like an amusing, if rather inscrutable, shaggy dog story which finds beauty in the rhythms of its protagonist's encounters and is no less engaging for that.

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