By Don Simpson | October 14, 2010
Director: Margarethe von Trotta
Writer: Margarethe von Trotta
Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Heino Ferch, Hannah Herzsprung, Gerald Alexander Held, Paula Kalenberg, Sunnyi Melles, Annemarie Düringer, Devid Striesow, Annika, Katinka Auberger
Hildegard von Bingen (Barbara Sukowa) is a 12th-century Benedictine nun-turned-magistra — as well as a seer, composer, philosopher, playwright, poet, scientist, naturalist and herbalist — who is often revered as an early feminist icon.
Sent to Disibodenberg Cloister at age 8 (many historians claim von Bingen was not cloistered until age 14), von Bingen is placed in the care of the magistra of the cloister, Jutta (Lena Stolze). Upon Jutta’s death, von Bingen is elected as magistra of the cloister. After one of her nuns becomes pregnant at Disibodenberg, von Bingen and about twenty nuns move into the newly constructed St. Rupertsberg monastery — von Bingen’s loyal confident and teacher Volmar (Heino Ferch) serves as their provost.
Vision is reminiscent of director Margarethe von Trotta’s feminist films of yesteryear, revealing her fascination with von Bingen’s penchant for being a rule-breaker as well as a forward-thinking pioneer of faith and enlightenment. Vision also intelligently depicts von Bingen’s political and rhetorical savvy in contending with the vanity and sexism inherent in the masculine world of the 12th-century. (Von Bingen resides in what is purely a man’s world, yet you would never know that by the power and influence she is able to wield.) But von Trotta’s von Bingen is not without faults — jealousy, pride, narcissism and egotism are readily apparent — Von Bingen is a physically weak person who falls ill with any trial or tribulation that comes her way.
Visually, Vision is pure eye candy reminiscent of the old masters, finely crafted with flawless mise en scène, gorgeous lighting and lush colors; even the most minute details (the characters’ eyes — especially Sukowa’s — possess an otherworldly sparkle and radiance) are immaculately rendered. The spine-tingling sound, too, is masterfully recorded. All in all, the production values of this film are extraordinary.
Disappointingly though, Von Trotta opts not to discuss von Bingen’s condemnations of same-sex couplings, masturbation and the misuse of carnal pleasures; she also promoted severe repentance (such as fasting and bodily penance) in order to obtain forgiveness from God. It is also worth noting that Oliver Sacks has speculated that von Bingen’s visions were merely the symptoms of migraines.