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Wednesday, 24 November 2010 01:00

"Vision" illuminates life of Hildegard von Bingen

"Vision" illuminates life of Hildegard von Bingen
Written by Martha K. Baker
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  • Director: Margarete von Trotta
  • Dates: Opens November 24, 2010

It’s hard to find a woman as rounded as Hildegard. She was born in Germany in 1098 and died when she was 82. In those years, she established herself as an herbalist, a believer in the power of the mind and the spirit and the body, a feminist in a horribly patriarchal world, a musician who was not allowed to learn music theory because she was a woman, a preacher who traveled abroad where no woman had gone before, a mystic and visionary who believed in more than Roman Catholicism.

Hildegard was given as a gift of God to a communal cloister, not a convent, of monks who followed the Rule of St. Benedict. She vowed to obey the abbot, but by the time she was a magistrate of the nuns, she demanded her own cloister on land where St. Rupert had lived. She also demanded that the abbot turn over the lands, including Bingen, which the women’s families had given to the cloister so that her order could survive. The great actress, writer and director, Margarethe von Trotta has taken the ribs of this biography and added light, especially meaningful in a story about illumination. She begins the story when Hildegard is a girl, gallops forward 30 years, and then another 6 years. She follows Hildegard through her several moves and her rise in esteem by the bishop of Mainz, who supported her request to be able to write down her visions. He believed her when she said those visions came from God. Perhaps von Trotta gave too much energy to the story of Hildegard’s love for the girl Richardis, who came from a noble family and whose family supported Hildegard’s needs and desires. Perhaps, the center of the story is not in the love between this madonna and child. But von Trotta does not stint on telling of Hildegard’s struggle in the starchly male world. As the writer, she weaves a thread about envy throughout the screenplay. Hildegard’s surrogate mother first told her that envy is ugly and misshapen but that love is the greatest power given by God. The stunning Barbara Sukowa, her eyes a penetrating turquoise, portrays Hildegard mostly with her face, wreathed, in homespun linen. She also sings soprano. Heino French is the loyal monk Volmar, and Hannah Herzsprung is the beauteous, righteous Richardis. But what makes the movie seamless is von Trotta’s understanding that the world did not begin just 18 years ago, that truths can be found from the 11th century in the form of a woman with vision.

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