In Vision, German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta condenses the amazing life of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century Benedictine abbess, author, composer, scientist and philosopher, to its emotional essence. Wisely sensing that a single film could not do justice to her subject’s achievements, von Trotta opts to explore what factors – other than the voice of God – drove her to defy the church’s sexist norms and make herself heard.
But the strides that Hildegard made by giving herself and her beliefs a voice end up taking a painful toll. With an inviting widescreen canvas and beautifully lit images, Vision overcomes the episodic, talky nature of the screenplay and humanizes its fascinating protagonists, whose lives are strange enough to seem like something out of science fiction but whose resonance –particularly Hildegard’s – continue to this day.
In that sense, Vision fits right in with the other films directed by von Trotta, who was an accomplished actress and writer when she became a filmmaker, beginning with 1975’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (directed with her husband Volker Schlondorff), about a maid unfairly accused of being a terrorist.
Many of the movies that followed (Rosa Luxemburg, Rosenstrasse, I am the Other Woman, The Long Silence) continued to focus on female characters, either fictional or historical, with a strong feminist perspective. Vision, too, devotes a lot of time to standoffs between a defiant Hildegard (Barbara Sukowa) and the priests who’d rather dismiss her as a heretic than take seriously her claims of receiving messages from God. But the heart of the film rests in Hildegard’s maternal and sisterly bond with the other nuns of the cloister, most important her relationship with the teenage Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung). The girl becomes Hildegard’s protege, then irreplaceable assistant, and finally, something of a daughter.
Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Heino Ferch, Hannah Herzsprung, Gerald Alexander Held.
Writer/director: Margarethe von Trotta.
Producer: Markus Zimmer.
A Zeitgeist Films release. Running time: 110 minutes. Brief nudity, adult themes. In German with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford, Tower.