Sunday, April 24, 2011

Vision (2010)

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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Anonymous said...

My kind of movie! I'll have to look for it. THanks for the review :)

Happy Easter!! Alleluiah!

elena maria vidal said...

You'll love it, Gette! Happy Easter to you and yours!

EC Gefroh said...

Elena, the other day I found this movie on Netflix and put it in my queue. However, I did not know whether it was worth watching or not. Thank you! I now look forward to watching it since it has the Elena Seal of Approval :-)

Elena LaVictoire said...

Good to know that it's on Netflix! Adding it to my movie queue too! Thanks for the review!

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

I enjoyed reading some of her writings for a recent paper I wrote about Medieval mystics. Do you know whether Hildegard was ever canonized? (I didn't find anything about this...)

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Esther and Elena! I think you will both really enjoy it!

elena maria vidal said...

Heidi, Hildegard was never formally canonized. Neither were most of the saints that came before her. In Hildegard's case, the formal canonization process was inaugurated for the first time in history. Hildegard was still never officially canonized for some reason (too controversial perhaps?) but is still universally known as St. Hildegard.