27 April 2012 | dharmendrasingh
The God Who Wasn't There
Told that she is too hardcore, adolescent nun Celine Hadewijch is expelled from her Antwerp convent and released back in to the world, where her desires can be provoked and thus her love for God truly tested.
On Paris' mean streets she meets Yassine, a French Muslim, whose performance I will describe as nonsensical, nervous and numb. The pair meet now and then to partake in teenage thrills, like illegal moped riding. She tells him that she is happy to be friends but nothing more, as her vow to God forces her to remain celibate.
Her love test arrives when she is introduced to Yassine's older brother, a mole-faced terrorist who masquerades as an innocent preacher. He gives poisonous religious seminars in the back of a kebab shop (that'll put you off fish and chips) to perfect terrorist bait: ignorant poor people.
Celine is neither poor or ignorant, but is nonetheless seduced. A dark cloud descends right at the point where she accepts – what? Conversion to Islam? A terrorist assignment? It is left open for interpretation, just like any religious text.
The line 'Abstinence is the idea, not martyrdom' uttered by the Sister Superior in response to Celine's behaviour got me thinking. Has she been forced into religion through neglect from her family? Is her devotion a mask for her insecurity? Or does she suffer because it is man she desires, not God, and cannot forgive herself for not being able to suppress her (God-given) nature?
The interesting part of the film focuses on Celine's personal quest for earthly unity with God, which she knows is unattainable, but pursues for the occasional closeness she feels to Him. Frustratingly this story is shelved in favour of exposing the subtle nature of extremism. My dissatisfaction lay in the misalignment of the two narratives.