On Monday Fran and I went to see Vision, a recent German-language film directed by Margarethe Von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa, on the life of the twefth-century visionary abbess, Hildegard of Bingen. Many people in our time know of Hildegard exclusively through her music, thanks to beautiful contemporary recordings like Gothic Voices and Emma Kirkby’s luminous A Feather on the Breath of God. But Hildegard was more than just a composer — she was truly a renaissance woman, centuries before the Renaissance! In addition to being an abbess and a musician, she was a visionary, an herbalist, a healer, a playwright, and a mystic. She corresponded with some of the leading figures in the church in her time, from the pope to Bernard of Clairvaux. She did all this in an age when women had virtually no social standing, making her an icon for feminists. The movie is a beautiful and contemplative retelling of her life, from her entry in the cloister at age 8 through to her midlife (it does not show her death, in the year 1179 at about 81 years of age).
If you like this blog, I think I can safely say you’ll love this movie. So go see it if you can, or at the very least, plan on renting or buying the DVD when it is released. Thankfully, Von Trotta doesn’t seem to have any axes to grind, which makes for a rich movie that I think could be enjoyed by both the convinced faithful and the thoughtful skeptic.
Below is the movie’s trailer, which will give you a sense of the lovely cinematography. I think the trailer plays up the idea of Hildegard as a proto-feminist and church rebel; thankfully the movie itself is much more nuanced in how it portrays Hildegard’s occasional conflicts with her superiors.