Femi-Nun Side

Vision focuses on lesser-known church history

Creating a film about a medieval nun (especially one without the words “naughty,” “nasty” or “naked” preceding it) is likely a form of cinematic suicide. The 18-25 male demographic would much rather watch one of Angelina Jolie’s gun-toting incarnations — preferably the one that wears hot pants.

German writer/director Margarethe von Trotta has never cared much about the aforementioned demographic. Instead, her film Vision, a biopic about 12th century femi-nun Hildegard von Bingen, feels like a labor of love. Sure, the movie is flawed — it’s dry (after all, nuns aren’t known as a fun-loving bunch), and the dialog is a little stilted. But her story about an important 1000-year-old writer, philosopher and female voice is beautifully rendered and well acted, not to mention historically significant.

The movie begins with little Hildegard von Bingen being given to the church like so much tuna casserole at a Lutheran potluck. Jutta (Lena Stolze) takes her in, introducing her to her other “daughter” Jutta, who is Hildegard’s age. The wise matronly nun spends the following years teaching her charges by day and flagellating herself to an early grave by night. It’s a brutal, stark existence, and Jutta’s teachings of love amid this backdrop are a strange juxtaposition.

Years later, Jutta dies, and Hildegard (now played by Barbara Sukowa, a longtime fixture in German theater) replaces her as magistra, or head nun. Soon after, Hildegard reveals that she’s been having visions of a living light, a controversial revelation that sends ripples through the male-dominated Catholic church.

Von Trotta isn’t concerned with explaining her visions, whether they’re produced by moldy rye bread, her consumption of wormwood wine or old-fashioned hysteria. Instead, the crux of the film’s tension comes from Hildegard’s political dealings with her male counterparts and her interpersonal relationships, including a young nun named Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung). It’s these less historically important moments (the nature of Hildegard and Richardis’s relationship, the envy or scorn of the other nuns within the cloister) when Von Trotta shines.

The film’s external point of view (and vows of silence), effectively keeps the audience out of the main character’s thoughts. Sukowa plays Hildegard with a curious dichotomy — for most of the film she strides about with an understated assurance, the result of her being chosen by God. But she occasionally pitches a hissy fit, melodramatically prostrating herself on cold stone floors. Despite its “Masterpiece Theater” feel, Vision is a portrait of an emotionally stunted genius and the oppressive conditions that produced her.

Grade: B-

posted at 12:13 am
on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Fun With Catholics and Communism

The funniest scene in Hail, Caesar! is a microcosm of the film’s overall genius. Foppish British director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) tries to get Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a singin’ and...

more »


Ryan’s List Sucks

My first official top 10 films list as a film critic and, oddly enough, it comes after the first year ever that precisely 10 films stood out to me as far superior to the rest. We’ll get to my 10-best...

more »


Less to Love but More Loved

Typically, assembling my “best films” list is a torturous process of deciding which films get culled after I do some mental Hunger Games with movies as tributes. This year? I actually had to reach...

more »


Hurts So Good

In the lead up to its release, I can only imagine how many times director Lenny Abrahamson had to clarify, “No, you’re thinking of THE Room” when separating his project from the oft-spoofed “worst...

more »


Aw, Man

Director William Brent Bell almost certainly envisions The Boy to be the ultimate creepy doll movie, relishing in all of our favorite creepy doll movie moments. I almost enjoyed a few scenes of the...

more »







Advanced Search