Friday, October 15, 2010

Vision (2009)

As a historical drama, Margarethe von Trotta's Vision is easy to appreciate because of its competent execution. Unfortunately, the film might leave enthusiasts of medieval history very hungry because it favours some angles more than others that are more relevant.

The latest film by German director Margarethe von Trotta (Rosenstrasse) follows Hildegard von Bingen (Barbara Sukowa), a German nun best known for her musical compositions, her knowledge in herbal medicine and her religious "visions". In 1106, at the age of eight, Hildegard is sent by her parents at the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg. Under the supervision of mother Jutta (Lena Stolze), Hildegard studies herbal medicine, reading, writing and Christianity. Thirty years later, mother Jutta dies and Hildegard is elected as the female abbot by her sisters.

Because she believes she occasionally has "visions" sent by God, Hildegard describes them to brother Volmar (Heino Ferch). With the authorization of the pope, Volmar write about these "visions" as dictated by Hildegard in a book. We also witness the jealousy of Jutta von Sponheim (Mareile Blendl), a sister who was also raised by mother Jutta, because of Hildegard's notoriety. There's also the very intimate friendship between Hildegard and sister Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung), who regards Hildegard as an intellectual model.

Given its tone, Vision differs from Rosenstrasse, another film by von Trotta about a non-Jewish German woman who struggles to get her Jewish husband out of a prison in Berlin during the Second World War. Instead of giving an endless - and yet justified - eulogy of the heroine's qualities, von Trotta offers a distanced homage to Hildegard von Bingen. We get to see a seemingly flawless protagonist who swears to live in abnegation in favour of God and be a role model for the sisters. At the same time, the film makes us grin by dealing with Hildegard's propensity to enjoy her intellectual celebrity because of the "visions" she had had. All in all, expect a very nuanced performance by Barbara Sukowa depicting a character who tried in her own way to stand up against the misogyny of the time.

Speaking about history, Vision doesn't entirely give you the feeling that you're living the Middle Age. Of course, the film does show the contempt some people had for Hildegard's claims of having visions or even her opinions against certain Christian customs. However, Vision only superficially explores the tolerance of the German clergy towards Hildegard's public notoriety. As for the pope's tolerance of some ideas advocated by Hildegard, don't expect to see any explanations.

Despite its flaws, Vision is worth your time if medieval history is your cup of tea.

Rating: 3.5/5

Origin:Germany/France (2009)
Length:110 minutes
Genre:Biographic drama
Screenplay:Margarethe von Trotta
Director:Margarethe von Trotta
Starring:Barbara Sukowa and Heino Ferch

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