The young novice Celine (Sokolowski) is asked to leave the convent because she refuses to eat. The problem is that she's so overwhelmed by her faith that food seems unnecessary to her. Her love for God knows no bounds, and she's determined to feel him in every moment. She returns to her wealthy parents' lavish Paris flat and meets the young Muslim Yassine (Salime) in a cafe. He's attracted to her but respects her vow of celibacy. And it's his brother Nassir (Sarafidis) who catches her interest with discussions about active Islam.
There are elements here that echo Dumont's previous work (such as the foreboding tone and the interaction with nature). But what's surprising is the overwhelming gentleness, even as the film begins to explore the kind of religious fervour that inspires violence. Dumont is equating the passion a young nun feels while praying with a suicide bomber's ecstatic state of mind.
And the film takes such a delicate approach that we start to understand how this might be true.
Sokolowski delivers a raw, deeply felt performance with minimal flourishes. The camera often lingers on her almost saintly face as she experiences life and sees God in art and nature. And Sokolowski's scenes with the other actors are charged with a remarkable combination of holiness and naivete. It's as if Celine has some kind of divine protection simply because her heart is so pure.
While it may be hard to believe that such a fervent Christian could so easily join a fanatic Islamic sect, we can see in her eyes that there is no conflict.
Dumont tells this increasingly unnerving story with scenes that are often still and silent. He continually contrasts sights, sounds and situations, such as sequences in which Celine attends a scruffy outdoor rave and then later listens to a classical string ensemble in a church. Throughout the film, Dumont skilfully maintains a feeling of uncertainty; we never know what will happen next. And even if some of what happens isn't hugely convincing (or clear), it really gets us thinking.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 24th December 2010
Box Office USA: $4.6k
Distributed by: IFC Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Bruno Dumont
Producer: Rachid Bouchareb, Muriel Merlin
Screenwriter: Bruno Dumont
Starring: Julie Sokolowski as Céline vel Hadewijch, Yassine Salime as Yassine Chikh, Karl Sarafidis as Nassir Chikh, David Dewaele as David
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