Day 10: VISION (Margarethe von Trotta, Germany, 2009)
A film so beautifully made and modulated one could easily be lulled into the idea that it is “merely” a staid, handsomely mounted historical biopic. But just beneath the serene and seemingly straightforward surface of this depiction of the 12th century mystic and Benedictine abbess St. Hildegard of Bingen, celebrated New German Cinema director and feminist filmmaking icon Margarethe von Trotta manages to signal the vicious political intrigue, strict religious hierarchies, and complex interpersonal relationships that tightly corset Hildegard’s cloistered life, threatening at every turn to completely dismantle her life’s work and entire existence. Considering that Hildegard managed to live an eventful life that almost defies probability—not only achieving wide renown for her mystical visions, but founding two monasteries as well as distinguishing herself as a a writer, composer, philosopher, and pioneer in the field of scientific natural history—von Trotta (who wrote the screenplay as well as directed the film) gracefully links together a series of vignettes that manage to capture both the immensity of Hildegard’s achievements while carefully stripping away the layers of hagiography and historical legend to locate an actual person. In this regard she’s immensely assisted by her frequent collaborator Barbara Sukowa, who imbues her performance of the future saint with equal parts intelligence and passion, meticulously crafting a nuanced portrait of a woman as adept at taking on church hierarchy as she was quietly gardening in the monastery garden. But even though the film is composed in muted tones that evoke the quiet serenity of a Vermeer painting, there’s simultaneously a sense the emotional fires, subversive erotic energy, and intellectual fervor raging just behind the modest folds of a nun’s habit and sturdy stone walls of a medieval convent. This is quietly masterful filmmaking.
[Watch Vision on Fandor here.]