Vision chronicles several decades in the life of Hildegard von Bingen (Barbara Sukowa), a prominent nun who lived in the twelfth century. Somewhat of a rebel, Hildegard was as interested in the sciences as she was theology, and dictated many manuscripts that have survived to this day. She was also the recipient of visions, an aspect of her life that the film surprisingly, yet thankfully, doesn’t spend too much time on (her actions being much more interesting and significant).
Bringing to life a film in which the majority of the participants are covered from head to foot in religious habit must be darned difficult. Though we can see Hildegard and her sisters’ faces, the garb prevents any gesturing or body language. Thankfully, Hildegard actually puts on a morality play at one stage in which she and her fellow nuns (Shock! Horror!) have their hair out and heads uncovered. This occasion is significant as it’s apparently one of the earliest surviving morality plays but also because it lets us see that Hildegard had a progressive, all-encompassing take on worship, and she’s chastised more than once for her scandalous (read: approachable and sensible) techniques.
Having devoted herself to her God, Hildegard has of course denied herself the joys of having a family or a partner, and it is for this reason that her love for the devoted young nun Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung) becomes a powerful force in her life. Their devotion, though obviously devoid of anything sexual, is clearly a sublimation of natural human desire and is powerful to watch. Herzsprung, of course, is wonderful, and it’s great to see her in a role so far removed from her breakthrough performance in Four Minutes (Vier Minuten). Much of the film’s power rests on the shoulders of Sukowa as Hildegard, and she is wonderfully forceful yet restrained in the lead role.
The film can be sluggish, particularly in the first half hour or so. The arrival of Richardis livens things up somewhat, however, and Vision overall is somewhat of a quiet achiever. The cinematography is great, for the most part, though several times we’re subjected to horrid ultra-vast zooms, which seem entirely out of place in a film such as this – they’re distracting and tacky.
Vision is an interesting study of a woman who was quite clearly ahead of her time. In fact, to a certain extent, she’s ahead of this time in many ways, at least where the Church is concerned. The film is a little bit too measured for my liking, but it’s a strong drama all the same.Rating: