Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen Reviews
Into this world of ignorance walks Hildegard von Bingen(Barbara Sukowa) who at the age of eight is given over to the care of a cloister. 30 years later and she is about to be appointed magistra but claims ill health and anyway her fellow nuns should vote for her which they do almost unanimously. Along with her spiritual duties, she becomes interested in medicine and studies how music can also be used to heal the body. And then the visions kick in which she confesses to Brother Volmar(Heino Ferch), resulting with her being threatened with the charge of heresy.
Written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta, "Vision" is an engaging look at an amazing woman who was way ahead of her time, depicted not as a saint, but as a flawed human being. With the exception of the Arabic world, the Church had most of the accumulated learning which Hildegard used her skills to negotiate access to for her and her nuns. With this learning, she started the slow walk out of the dark ages into a new world of knowledge. And part of that comes with having respect for and knowledge of the body.(Unless you're getting off on it, I have never understood self-flagellation.)
It's a rare thing to witness in modern American culture: a film that attempts to be respectful of a nun who lived in the early 1000's A.D., and who claimed to receive messages from God. Hildegard von Bingen was certainly no ordinary woman, a great leader of her fellow Sisters in Christ, as well as a paragon of ancient Christian mysticism she was a true leader. Unfortunately, this film doesn't do her life justice, nor will it convince many people of her sincerity rather than the probability of her lunacy.
Margarethe von Trotta's screenplay is faithful to key events in the life of Mother Hildegard, but unfortunately convoluted. The images and plot devices on screen weave in and out of one another without a consistent through-line and without artistic restraint, lending for an ultimately sloppy delivery of an otherwise complete story of her life, from birth to death.
Even in other areas this film confused me, as half of the scenes were filmed beautifully, with gorgeous landscape shots and tactful camera angles to emphasize emotion and even a sense of Gregorian spirituality in ancient Christendom. But then the other half of the film contained almost laughably messy shots, fast-zooms, shaky camerawork, etc.
This, of course, visually caused a downfall to otherwise beautiful set and costume design. The art direction in "Vision" was truly beautiful, with close attention to period-wary detail as well as wholesomely natural surroundings, reflecting Hildegard's own love of nature itself.
Barbara Sukowa shines as Hildegard von Bingen, clearly an experienced and commanding German actress. She makes for a rather inspiring-looking leader, with her piercing gaze, her surefire delivery of lines, and the graceful poise with which she went about her daily duties as magistra to a cloister of soon-to-be-nuns.
In the end, an unusual script and uneven camera work (as well as the glorification of someone who most likely had schizophrenia) lead to an otherwise well-made film feeling more messy than inspirational. Not to mention the strange hollowness that seems to pervade a story that is meant to be spiritually rich. The true redeeming qualities of this somewhat disappointing but still partially well-constructed work, are the rare moments of visual beauty, and Sukowa's commanding performance.