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Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
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110 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2011
I had the honor of previewing the extraordinary German-language film "Vision", the story of the great Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen. Not since the magnificent 1980's Spanish mini-series "Teresa de Jesus" has a film so accurately yet poignantly portrayed a famous woman saint. Newly released on DVD, the Zeitgeist production, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, stars Barbara Sukowa as the enigmatic twelfth century German abbess. One of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard was not only a mystic but an author, a musician, a foundress and a director of souls, learned in the natural sciences as well as in theology and philosophy. She wrote some of the first mystery plays, laying the groundwork for modern drama. Madame Sukowa is able to convey the inner stillness of the contemplative spirit of Hildegard along with her strength and common sense. All the while, the very human side of the saint is always present as she struggles with those who oppose her, as well as with the devil, and with herself.

Resisting the temptation to make the film into a piece of feminist propaganda, "Vision" portrays Hildegard as an obedient daughter of the Church. Her obedience is by no means mere childish acquiescence, as the vow of obedience is too often misconstrued, but an expression of a vibrant faith. St. Hildegard is not afraid to take a firm but charitable stand against injustice. She will brook no infractions of the Rule which protects the serene and disciplined life of her nuns. She is a true mother ready to fight to the death for her spiritual children.

Because of the film's commitment to authenticity there are many elements of medieval life, such as the custom of everyone embracing each other on the lips, which seems odd to modern sensibilities. Hildegard is deposited with the nuns when still a small child as a gift to God from her parents. The cloister becomes the only world she has ever known and the nuns her only family. When a young nun Sister Richardis becomes like the natural daughter she never had, Mother Hildegard objects strongly to Richardis being sent away to become the abbess of another community. At first it appears that the saint has given in to an inordinate attachment but eventually it becomes clear that Hildegard can see that no good will come of the transfer, and she proves to be correct. An exceptionally powerful scene is when Hildegard is summoned to be questioned about her visions by several formidable churchmen. As they glower in anticipation of proving her to be a crazy woman or a demoniac, Hildegard faces them with such calm assurance that there is no doubt as to who will emerge triumphant.

Another unique aspect of the film is the rare but real depiction of the vocation of nuns as joyful brides. From the lustrous beauty of the herb gardens to the austerity of the monastic halls, every scene radiates a light and beauty that suggest there is more to living than what the eye can see. Although the viewer is gently and continually reminded of the sacrificial lifestyle of Mother Hildegard and her nuns, a mysterious sense of exultation permeates the film. It becomes clear that while the Benedictines have renounced the world they have been given in return a gift so precious that it is beyond price.

(*NOTE: The DVD "Vision" was sent to me by the producers in exchange for my honest opinion.)
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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2011
My wife and I really enjoyed this video-- as far as it went. Which, alas, was not far enough. We have studied the life and work of St. Hildegard for almost fifteen years, so were familiar with her biography. This is very nicely presented here: the scenery is beautiful; the music (though not enough of it) was lovely; the acting is excellent. There is much to recommend this film, certainly. But it draws to a close much too quickly: We are barely introduced to the emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, when Hildegard is off on her preaching tour across Europe. We hear nothing more of her relationship with the emperor, or of the pope whom she [persuaded to return to Rome. There are no references to the illustrations of her visions, magnificent in their own right. Indeed, her works (including Scivias) are touched upon quite briefly, some of them (like her work in medicine and the natural sciences) barely at all. Indeed, the entire last twenty years of her life is completely missing-- details of her tours and correspondence, her moving of her convent to Eibingen, the interdict which she managed successfully to have overturned-- all not mentioned at all. Instead, the film seems to dwell too long on her relationship with her dear Richardis, an interesting topic, but hardly as pivotal as it is presented here. In the desire for "narrative" (that is, soap opera) many aspects of her fascinating history are ingored or paid short shrift. We were very disappointed when the ending came so suddenly, with Hildegard rising from her sick bed, hitting the road, and literally riding off into the sunset-- a full twenty years too early! There is a great need for a sequel to finish off the story of the remaining 20 years of this fascinating woman's life.
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97 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2011
For my tastes, this was one of the top films of 2010 - a gorgeous biopic of a strongly willed nun of the Middle Ages who reinvented the meaning of spirituality for her time. Barbara Sukowa gives a subtle, nuanced performance of this philosopher, mystic, herbalist, musician, playwright who insisted on creating a special cloister of female nuns against the wishes of the male religious hierarchy. There were those after her, of course...one thinks of St. Theresa of Avila...but the accomplishments of Hildegard Von Bingen were certainly more varied. For example, she created an entirely new kind of musical religious play. She experimented with the healing power of herbs.

What makes her portrayal so interesting in the movie is that she is not uni-dimensional. At various times Hildegard Von Bingen appears submissive or strong, compassionate or stern, independent and emotionally weak, hard headed and mystic. The power of the actresses performance is that Hildegard's thoughts are not necessarily the same as her actions.

I love the luscious historical background of those authentic, old European cloisters. Every moment, the film kept me breathless. This is a thinking persons' movie about the wonders of true religious spirituality.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
This movie is beautifully filmed and interesting, but offers a cold and superficial interpretation of Hildegard, tainted by secular historical revisionism. It is the sort of movie that attempts to depict a Christian mystic as admirable, but quite apart from the mystic's relationship with God, leaving a half-sketched caricature as protagonist. Rather than evoking the real Hildegard through her writings and spirituality, this film chooses to focus on how she got want she wanted through intelligence and cunning, inviting us to admire her political will rather than any sort of religious wisdom or example she might have offered. The content of her visions is barely touched upon, with the director inviting us to admire Hildegard as a proto-feminist who simply happened to be a nun. The problem is that Hildegard was a nun who happened to be a proto-feminist, not vice versa, and her relationship with Jesus in prayer is central to understanding her. As a result, one walks away from this film with a mild interest in medieval politics, but without any sort of deep insight into Hildegard's personality or understanding of her as a real person. She remains as remote from the viewer as the director is from God. An intriguing film for agnostics, perhaps, even though it is neither gripping nor involving. I'm glad I saw it, and it is certainly worth a rental, but I would not encourage others to actually purchase it. For a much better example of an avant garde European treatment of a Catholic saint, check out the "Therese" film that won at Cannes in 1986. It is neither preachy nor fawning, but at least gives you a sense of who Therese of Lisieux was and what she believed, whether you agree with it or not.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2011
Judge Brett Cullum, DVD Verdict -- "Hildegard von Bingen is someone you could play many ways--a saint or mad woman possessed by her own insanity; a daft con woman; or a supernatural force. Smartly VISION does not play into the hype, and is comfortable showing a woman who sincerely believes that God speaks through her. It also avoids putting a modern feminist spin on a figure who had no exposure to these concepts. She is simply a woman who learns how to maneuver in a world where men have always had the power. The film moves slowly, and goes through von Bingen's entire life. While it sometimes feels a little too calculated, it is amazing what von Trotta and Sukowa manage to do with the rich material. And the DVD from Zeitgeist is as much of a treat as the film itself. We get panel discussions from both the Telluride Film Festival, as well as the film's premiere at the Goethe Institute in New York; a sit down interview with the director by Gary Giddings; and a booklet that reminds me of something Criterion would put out."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
From German director Margarethe von Trotta comes "Vision", a biopic of the 12th century Benedictine nun, composer, herbalist, and visionary Hildegard von Bingen. Given to an abbey in childhood by her affluent parents, Hildegard (Barbara Sukowa) is elected magistra, or "teacher", in adulthood. Sickly and always hungry for knowledge, she continually conducts experiments to increase her knowledge of herbal medicine, passing it on to the other nuns, all while composing poems, songs, and dictating books of her religious visions. She claimed that God communicated with her through visions of a bright light. With the support of a sympathetic monk Brother Volmar (Heino Ferch), she is recognized as a visionary. But her commitment to building a separate abbey for her nuns places her at odds with the Abbott (Alexander Held) to whom she has sworn obedience.

Hildegard von Bingen actually founded two abbeys. Many of her accomplishments have been omitted or hinted at in order to focus on her interactions with Jutta (Lena Stolze), a nun with whom she was raised, and her favorite pupil, the spirited young Richardis von Stade (Hannah Herzsprung). These relationships are used to illuminate Hildegard's character, but I'm not sure how much could realistically be known about them. She was quite accomplished as a scientist and composer. She corresponded with popes and kings in a time when it was hardly possible for a woman to contemplate such ambition. And she was later canonized. Margarethe von Trotta's treatment has a transcendental quality, which she has chosen over a litany of Hildegard's accomplishments. This is effective, if a little open-ended, but it sometimes left me wanting more facts.

The DVD (Zeitgeist 2011): There are three interviews with director Margarethe von Trotta. "Margarethe von Trotta Tribute and Q&A with Annette Insdorf and Barbara Sukowa" (27 min) was filmed at Telluride in 2009, when von Trotta received an award. Sukowa introduces the director, and Insdorf, a professor from Columbia University, interviews her. "Margarethe von Trotta Interview with Gary Giddons" (12 min) is also from Telluride. Giddons is a film writer. "Goethe-Institute Q&A" (40 min) is a 2010 conversation with von Trotta and writer Robert Boyers. There is also a US theatrical trailer (2 min). The film is in German with optional English subtitles.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2013
Barbara Sukowa stars as the twelfth-century nun and magistra Hildegard of Bingen who defied an abbot at Disibodengerg, who had visions, who stood up to her persecutors, who founded two convents, who wrote nine books and one play, who taught herself and her nuns the healing properties of herbs (two of her books are about the care of the body and the various elements), who corresponded with Popes and Kings, who composed over 100 hymns, antiphons, etc. that are still played today, who traveled the country preaching, and who invented a language (not mentioned in the film, alas). And who was supported in her endeavors by her life-long friend and provost Volmar. Sukowa is brilliant as Hildegard--funny, passionate, pious, manipulative, jealous, brave, talented and charismatic. Those who want a more faithful rendering of her adventures and discoveries in better chronological order will be disappointed by their truncation in the movie (expected). For instance, there is no reference to the vivid illustrations in her first book, Scivias. For a film called "Vision" this absence of the highly visual nature of her divine reveries is a huge omission. My speculation is that it was too costly for the filmmakers to show the heavily guarded images without paying the libraries that "own" them, or that the movie attempts to throw into question Hildegard's veracity. It is a very human portrait of a complex and mysterious woman. Also, I wanted more of her own music played--there is the Ordo Virtutis enacted--LOVELY! But the film downplays her compositions (same reason? copyright issues?) BTW, she was finally canonized in 2012 and made a Doctor of the Church, the highest honor given to a Catholic ecclesiast--an acknowledgement of one's contribution to ecclesiastical knowledge and faith. And only the fourth woman.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2011
This was a nice account of the life of Hildegard von Bingen.

It seems that movies with spiritual figures rarely capture the sense of the spirituality, compassion, love, and strength of that figure without going overboard in one direction or another, and this movie did a nice job of getting it just right with Hildegard. It was interesting seeing her interactions with those with positions of authority in the Church, as well as with her fellow nuns. Whether accepted or hated, she kept going her own way and doing what she needed to do for the good of humanity, then and into the future.

With very nice cinematography and music to complement the story, I was glad to have seen it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2013
When purchasing a copy of this production, I was skeptical as to how the team could tell the story of Hildegard on the screen. I need not have been concerned. The cinematic telling of a 13th century mystic is done with clarity, poise and balance.
I recommend this film to anyone wishing to dip into the lives of people who searched and probed spirituality, relationships, medicine and the politics of the day.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This was a great movie about part of the life of Hildegard...I wish they had done the full life of this wonderful woman.
She was multi-talented, a Renaissance woman before the Renaissance.

Watching "Vision" will make you want to know more about Hildegard's visions, music, illustrations, studies of plants and illnesses and so much more.

Really, go find the movie and a book or two.
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