Mesmerized by Mysticism: The Transcendental Style of Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch

Peter Verstraten


The French filmmaker Bruno Dumont takes his inspiration from medieval mystic texts, since they teach us that spiritual matters can only be suggested via detours, never directly. His fascination with mysticism comes explicitly to the fore in (the title of) his fifth feature, Hadewijch, named after the well-known 13th century beguine who lived near Antwerp. This contribution examines how this film is informed by both her Poems in Stanzas, nowadays better known as Songs – about the violent longing for ‘Minne’ – and her Book of Visions on the visual perception of His Countenance. By staging an encounter between an ascetic virgin and a radical Muslim, Dumont’s Hadewijch seems concerned with addressing the thin line between God as Beloved and God as the Almighty Judge. I will then proceed to read the film through the lens of the ‘transcendental style’ of the cinema of Robert Bresson. This style shares with Hadewijch’s texts an attempt to explore the ‘limit of the unexpressive’, albeit that their strategies are contrasted, due to a difference in medium. The mystic writings are characterized by ‘abundant means’ – lyrical expressions full of passions – whereas Dumont’s cinematic style advocates sparse means – a humble aspect ratio, non-psychological acting, elliptical cutting, static closure – in a medium which is said to be ‘abundant at birth’.


Mysticism; Visions; Hadewijch; Cinema; Bruno Dumont; Robert Bresson; Transcendental style

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