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'Vision' is a worthy but uninspired biopic about the renowned medieval
mystic Hildegard Von Bingen, who was a nun in the Benedictine Order in
12th century Germany. The historical record informs us that she was a
formidable and compassionate human being, who discouraged severe
ascetic practices, believing that God intended humans to live healthy,
contented lives of hard work, charity and spiritual devotion. She
became the 'magistra' of her order and eventually founded two convents,
writing books on medicine, composing music and teaching her own method
'Vision' chooses to focus chiefly on various intrigues within Hildegard's cloistered world of nuns, monks and bishops, as well as the nobility who provided financial backing for religious orders. No doubt there was some jealousy within that environment which obstructed her various endeavors, but Hildegard was a respected figure in 12th century Germany, traveling widely on preaching tours at a time when women were traditionally banned from such pursuits. Hildegard's contemplative disciplines and spiritual insights were crucial aspects of her life's work, but being difficult to film, they are pretty much ignored in favor of her worldly activities. The acting and cinematography are sufficiently competent for the task at hand, but anyone hoping to learn something profound about Hildegard's esoteric philosophy from 'Vision' is likely to be disappointed.
Sometimes I muse: what if I woke up and found myself in the middle of
the 12th century in Western Europe? What was life really like? The
present film centering on one of the most "uppity" women of the Middle
Ages, Hildegard von Bingen, takes you into the medieval world as few
films do. As much as we often like to idealize the Middle Ages,
particularly since the 19th century, the period was anything but ideal.
Unlike today, people had few rights, and the powers-that-be could
uplift or destroy almost at a whim. In the church, people with power
used threats of persecution, usually in the name of heresy or
blasphemy, which could result in excommunication and even execution as
a means to reign people into modes of behavior which fit their desires
and designs. Hildegard von Bingen was one of the few people who stood
up to these forces and refused to bow to unreasonable demands easily.
Hildegard was remarkable because she was a woman who challenged predominantly male authority during an age when women wielded very little political influence outside of noble circles. Some queens did have some authority in political realms, but an abbess of a monastery making requests and even demands of bishops and other nobles was almost unheard of. An abbess had authority within her cloister but rarely outside. Typically abbesses were expected to be completely obedient to the local abbot and bishop, following their orders without question on bended knee. But Hildegard was not afraid to vocalize her desires and even her frustrations in front of very powerful forces. She is famous for having visions and claiming communication with God, an assertion which infuriates the local church leaders, who contest that such claims are an insult to the prophets of scripture. Why should God single her out and give her insight not given to bona fide holy people of the Bible? However, she wins favor with one of the bishops who allows her dialogs to be transcribed. Another aspect of Vision, like Name of the Rose, concerns the beautiful medieval books.
The 12th century was markedly different from modern society today but I think there were aspects more similar than we like to acknowledge. If we take a peak behind the curtain of castles and cathedrals, we see the same human desires and weaknesses we all share, which I think is one of the points of Vision. A large part of the film involves Hildegard's attachment to a young novice nun, Richardis, and the relationship becomes closer than even one of mother and daughter. Unfortunately, political and ecclesiastical power threatens the relationship, and not even Hildegard has enough influence to stop it.
The present film is a wonderful tribute to one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages. Barbara Sukowa offers a tour-de-force performance as the medieval abbess who defied convention during an age when non-conventional voices were often silenced, and sometimes violently. The scenes appear to have been shot in real medieval churches and castles which brings the viewer into the 12th century in a way very uncommon in most cinema which depicts these times. Although the 12th century is now 800 to 900 years away, the atmosphere is strangely familiar. Although details about everyday life would probably be unbearable for most of us in the modern age, such as the darkened candle-lit rooms and the constant threat of illness, many desires and fears which permeated life then are not unlike today. High-ranking officials often sought power while there were others who simply wanted to love and be loved and find the best means possible to bring this into being. People in the Middle Ages were still human beings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was a disappointment. The viewer coming to the film without
a knowledge of who Hildegard of Bingen was and her significance is
likely to leave the movie in almost the same condition. Why nine
hundred years after her life is she still discussed? This movie will
not answer that question.
The plot is minimal and predictable. It tells the story of Hildegard's becoming a nun, becoming the head of her group of sisters, starting her own nunnery, her conflicts with male authorities, and her relations with political authorities. At least as presented in Vision, this is not riveting. Neither the photography nor the acting is very impressive.
While the movie alludes to Hildegard's musical works, her scientific and medical interests, and devotes time to her visions, we do not receive a coherent well developed picture of the woman and her accomplishments. And that is a disappointment since Hildegard was an interesting person.
In short, Hildegard the person simply is not the same as Vision the movie. A movie reviewer ought not confuse the two.
To cite just two points on which a more enterprising film might have focused:
(1) For all of the movie's talk of Hildegard's visions, no effort is made to present them visually. That could have been quite dramatic cinema. Even if the budget constrained dramatic staging of the visions, a skillful writer would have used a plot device (such as manuscript illuminations or wall paintings) for graphic effect. It would have provided us with some feel as to their power and impact on her contemporaries. Alas, instead the movie has Hildegard narrating small disconnected passages without any real vitality.
(2) The movie ends just as Hildegard is going out to preach. She made four such trips and apparently they had major impacts throughout the Rhineland. Yet we do not see those trips. Undoubtedly they could have been presented in very dramatic fashion. Alas again, the movie misses a great cinematic opportunity.
One final point before closing. Yes, Hildegard is a strong woman resisting domination by male Church leaders, a creative artist, and an interesting intellectual figure. Unfortunately her legacy is not wholly uncontroversial. Some of her visions are profoundly anti-semitic. During the Second Crusade of 1147, the Jewish communities of the Rhineland were massacred. While Bernard denounced these mobs, Hildegard was silent. Wouldn't a more balanced picture of Hildegard have shown these moral failures? It might have made for a more interesting movie.
Independent German film was for decades the mainstay of the European cinematography. Brave, original thinking and the courage of the expression made it a breath of fresh air for the movie lovers. Unfortunately these days are long gone. Almost everybody tries so hard to be hip and Hollywoodlike. If we explode few things and simplify the plot for every simpleton, how can we miss? Well, we miss time and time again. The eternal beauty of filmmaking is about trying and having an idea, and a story to tell. It seems that there are no stories left to tell, or there are no people left who like the stories to be told to them." Vision" is a strange, unfinished movie, but it is an honest attempt to feel and think, and that is all one needs in this art form.
"Vision - Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen" was shown in the U.S.
with the shortened title Vision (2009). It was written and directed by
the excellent director Margarethe von Trotta.
As the German title tells us, this film is about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, one of the most fascinating historical figures of the Middle Ages. Von Bingen was a nun, a mother superior, a mystic, a healer, a theologian, and a composer. (Her musical works have survived, and they are still popular among lovers of early music.)
The gifted actor Barbara Sukowa plays von Bingen. Sukowa possesses the skills to make it clear to us that von Bingen was not only brilliant. She was a strong, forthright person. She did not hide behind her nun's habit--she used her status as a Mother Superior to interact with many of the other great personages of the 12th Century. She corresponded with bishops, theologians, philosophers, and members of the royal families of Europe.
This movie shows us some beautiful scenery, and so it would be better seen on the large screen. However, in my opinion, this is a must-see film. If DVD is your only option, go for it!
Note: If you read the other reviews for Vision, you'll see that I'm not the only IMDb reviewer to like it. However, the average IMDb rating of the film is a dismal 6.6. I find this inexplicable. It's one of those situations where I ask myself, Did those people see the same film I saw? My advice--ignore the low rating and decide for yourself whether this is a movie worth seeking out or not.
The film is named Vision. It is very appropriate as the music that weaves the visuals to greater experiences by the viewer is from the CD of Hildegard's music by Richard Souther called by the same name, Vision. music) both stir the soul of her demographic to height upon height. Well done German filmmakers!!! The film was visually stunning. It is difficult to tell the tale of the most powerful female in Western Culture and do it in a universal manner. It is obvious that this film had a team that had their own Vision to do more than make a film, but create a digital film footprint of a globally known and loved academic, spiritual, and feminist historical icon and mentor.
Woman's Work is Never Done - This movie, a true story about an
unstoppable12th century woman who advanced theology, philosophy, music
and women's rights is interesting and informative. Hildegard von Bingen
rose above the men around her to forge changes. The oppressive
patriarchal atmosphere in which she functioned is almost tangible. The
prevailing religious mood of 12th c. Germany is so vividly portrayed as
to sting the senses, and underlines the importance of Hildegard's
opposition. She preached love and refused to endorse the harsh
religious practices of the day. Mercy was better than sacrifice she
said, and she was passionate about the right to self-determination. The
movie captures this pure emotional passion, (not sexual), by its
brilliant casting and fine acting.
The film "Vision, from the Life of Hildegard von Bingen," written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta, is an inspiration, and we are grateful she brought the accomplishments of this woman to the screen. Barbara Sukowa in the title role convincingly portrays the commitment of a woman compelled to live out her destiny.
This is an opportunity to learn about a woman a thousand years ahead of her time. Living within the walls of the Benedictine order, Hildegard von Bingen accomplished so much in so many areas of life, and the history of the whole era comes to life in this film, much like the history of John Keats' era came to life in "Bright Star." The powerful insights von Bingen received from her visions of God are shown being recorded in manuscripts by her male secretary - Volmar sympathetically played by Heino Ferch. The healing powers of her music are witnessed in the film and remain available for all to enjoy today, but what a treat to see it all happen in Technicolor in 2010 in America.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Vision: From the Life of Hildegard Von Bingen" or just "Vision" is a
German/French collaboration from 2009 and the language in here is
almost exclusively German. It is another female-centered work written
and directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta and, like many
other times, actress Barbara Sukowa plays the main character, the title
character in this case. The cast includes a handful actors and
actresses from Germany that will definitely be known to film buffs,
most of them wearing nun outfits. Obviously this does not include Heino
Ferch and Devid Striesow and I personally felt that they were almost
unrecognizable in here, something entirely different for them for once.
But this is also already the only truly positive aspect here, one of
very few interesting things about this film.
The downside (frequent and deep down) is the usual stuff you get with Sukowa and often also von Trotta. I have seen the lead actress in many works before and she has huge problems in hitting the right notes. She almost never does and instead she goes painfully over the top in her performance as this is the only thing she can do to try to stay relevant and memorable because of her lack of talent when it comes to range and subtle acting. This film is the best example for all this. Even in her big nun outfit and with the audience only seeing her face for the most time, her performance still feels very false and unauthentic. I never had the impression to watch an actual nun.
The script is only slightly better, if at all. There are moments when you can at least feel the filmmaker's intention to come up with an interesting story, but these are pretty rare and most of the action feels as if it has one intention only, namely make the character of Hildegard von Bingen look as baity as possibly and create as many oh so important moments for her as possible. You can certainly not say that the main character was written in a boring manner, but instead she was written in a way that lacked realism entirely, so people would never forget her I guess. Sad to see that von Trotta still has not learned anything about the art of subtlety and restraint. Young nuns keep dying and it has nothing to do with good story-telling. It all feels rushed in for the sake of having the title character deal with these losses, not because it made any sense. Herzsprung is as bad as she usually is (ridiculous German Film Award nomination) and Kalenberg, who I usually like more, plays a character who was written in the most stereotypical way you could imagine.
There were also major flaws in the story in general. Herzsprung's character cries to Sukowa's that she is so scared and has no idea what to do without her if she dies one day and almost the very next scene, she tells her mentor that she will move on to another monastery and the bond seems to be lost entirely (at least from one side). Extremely bizarre. Then the rushed-in death, so we won't forget how brilliant and likable von Bingen is. There are huge plot-holes from start to finish. The visions reference in the title add almost nothing to the film and the way Sukowa acts in these scenes is the most cringeworthy stuff you could imagine. Also needless to say that this film lacks relevance in terms of depicting an actually existing person completely. It will not get anybody interested in von Bingen at all I am afraid and the reference to scenes added for dramatic purpose won't cut the cake anymore. Major disappointment here. Stay far far away.
beautiful. in profound sense. for the recreation of atmosphere. for the acting. for the different perspectives about a delicate subject, for the delicate force of image. for the image of a woman against her period expectation who wins and gives a nuanced definition to the sainthood. it is a film who propose more than gives. it propose the reflection about society from the XII century and from today. it propose an useful example of courage. and a not ordinary expression of the faith. a film who propose many questions and who rediscover an impressive figure of Middle Age who change the perspective about her time.Barbara Sukowa propose a Hildegard von Bingen who becomes heroic step by step, scene by scene, in a precise and convincing style.
I am Orthodox and the lives of Catholic saints are , for me,not more than nice episodes from good people existence. not the visions, not stigmata, not crumbs of piety are arguments for their sainthood. so, this movie was a source of delight. because it is tale of a woman. a real woman, far from aura or perfect gestures. a woman of a time. a victim and a conquerer. with falls and victories. a honest portrait, not very credible but honest ,about a human been in search of Truth. front against temptations. almost prey of them. sketch of Rennaiseance , she is a revolutionary and her fight fruit of strange visions. the central ingredient - images. the sweet part - exaggerations. many and amusing.but intention to give a not pink/fake portrait is good thing. and so, poor Hildegard has a honest portrait.
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