Zeitgeist Films // 2010 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 19th, 2011
Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th century Benedictine nun who became a Christian mystic, musical composer, philosopher, playwright, poet, herbalist, scientist, physician, and ecological activist. She was a woman well ahead of her time, and she remains a source of inspiration for many. Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen is a handsome biopic that recreates her life in superb detail. Director Margarethe von Trotta (Marianne and Juliane) has teamed up with Barbara Sukowa (Johnny Mnemonic) to create a portrait of an enigmatic woman. The film itself is beautiful and well done, capturing a sense of the wonder of Hildegard and the time she lived in. It feels authentic and is extremely well acted. It's a difficult task to show the life of a woman who could not read but invented her own alphabet, and one who refused to let a male hierarchy define her role in the church. The film moves slowly, and goes through von Bingen's entire life. It can sometimes feel a little too calculated, but it is amazing what von Trotta and Sukowa manage to do with the rich material.
The DVD from Zeitgeist is as much of a treat as the film itself. The 2.35:1 transfer looks high definition, and I could not see any issues with digital noise or artifacts from edge enhancement or compression. They have allowed the vision of the director to remain intact. Included in the packaging is a booklet that reminds me of something Criterion would put out. It is full of photos and essays which supply historical context as well as interviews with the actors and filmmakers. On the DVD itself we get panel discussions from both the Telluride Film Festival as well as the film's premiere at the Goethe Institute in New York. There is also a sit down interview conducted by Gary Giddings with the director.
It is a controversial topic, the idea of a religious mystic guided by visions and belief in the power of herbs. Hildegard von Bingen is someone you could play many ways -- as a saint or mad woman possessed by her own insanity. You could also play her as a daft con woman or as a supernatural force in her own right. Smartly this film does not play into the hype, and is comfortable to show a woman who sincerely believes that God speaks through her. It also smartly avoids putting a modern feminist spin on a figure who had no exposure to these concepts. She is simply a woman who learns how to maneuver in a world where men have always had the power. She learns how to appeal to a higher power in every sense of the word. This is a great film and a handsome DVD that presents it.
Guilty of having the right vision about Hildegard von Bingen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (German)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated