Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
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Lushly shot in original medieval cloisters of the fairytale-like German countryside, Vision is the profoundly inspirational portrait of Hildegard von Bingen, a woman who has emerged from the shadows of history as a forward-thinking and iconoclastic pioneer of faith, change and enlightenment. A visionary in every sense of the word, this famed 12th-century Benedictine nun was a Christian mystic, composer, philosopher, playwright, poet, naturalist, scientist, physician, herbalist and ecological activist. Reuniting with recurrent star Barbara Sukowa, New German Cinema auteur Margarethe von Trotta brings the story of this extraordinary figure to cinematic life. In a staggering performance, Sukowa portrays Hildegard's fierce determination to expand the responsibilities of nuns within the order, even as she fends off outrage from some in the Church over the visions she claims to receive from God. She was truly a woman ahead of her time.
- Beautiful high-definition transfer, enhanced for widescreen televisions
- Telluride Film Festival Tribute and Q&A with director Margarethe von Trotta by actress Barbara Sukowa and professor Annette Insdorf
- Writer Gary Giddins' Telluride interview with von Trotta
- A conversation at the Goethe-Institut New York, with von Trotta and writer Robert Boyers, editor of humanities journal Salmagundi
- Original U.S. theatrical trailer
- Booklet with Hildegard historical timeline and interviews with von Trotta and Sukowa
The German Benedictine nun Saint Hildegard von Bingen, whose visions in history have sometimes been dismissed as delusions or migraines, is in this biopic portrayed as the revolutionary healer and artist that she was, in efforts to further amend her contemporary public image. In Vision, director Margarethe von Trotta traces with some historical accuracy Bingen's astonishing life as not only a nun who was commanded to record her visions by God, but a medicine woman, an independent spirit, an intellectual, and a skilled artist and musician. This gorgeous depiction of her life, in addition to Barbara Sukowa's imaginative and respectful invention of Hildegard's character, offers the viewer a palpably realistic version of what the 11th century might have been like. While the first scenes in the film are set in the Cloister Disibodenberg, where as a preteen Hildegard was tithed to the church by her parents, the latter half of the film is set in the nunnery Hildegard designed and constructed, Cloister Rupertsberg. One of the great assets of this film is that it does not attempt to depict Hildegard's entire life, but instead focuses on a few main movements. Vision chronicles her childhood's ecclesiastical training, the passing of her spiritual mother Jutta (Lena Stolze) and Hildegard's election to Magistra thereafter, then Bingen's spiritual and intellectual growth through approximately age 60. Because one sees how young girls were separate from society in sanctuary, one can easily begin to understand how lucid Hildegard is regarding her visions that her provost Brother Volmar (Heino Ferch) eventually transcribes. Her visions in this film are tastefully handled, and the bulk of the narrative concerns instead Hildegard's studies, her ingenious, modern interest in both science and religion, and the ways in which she navigated a patriarchal church system on behalf of the nuns under her care. For example, the young, regal Richardis von Stade (Hannah Herzprung) is vowed in and for many years devotes herself to Hildegard, but not without jealousy from Hildegard's other close ally, Sister Jutta von Sponheim (Mareile Blendl). Small personal dramas unfold within the larger framework, making this a very complex and engaging film. --Trinie Dalton
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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.)
As usual, the photography, screenwriting, directing and acting are all first-rate. I am a big fan of both the director and the lead actress, having seen the work of both in other films, most especially the biopic about Hannah Ahrendt. I have already told several friends about the film because few directors seem interested in attempting an honest historical drama...as opposed to a soap opera in period costumes and setting. The question I have about the film, which is leading me to further reading, is how much of Hildegard's conduct was a function of ego/ambition and how much was the result of genuine faith. This is ultimately the question posed by the film. It deserves an honest answer which I hope to find by reading primary sources in translation.