Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen (Barbara Sukowa), a 12th-century Benedictine nun who was interested in medicine, botany, poetry, science, and had a thing against any male authority that wasn’t God’s. The film reads, ironically, like a corporate-culture tale as we see Hildegard go quickly up the hierarchical religious ladder, from gifted girl to feisty magistra, amassing followers and increasing her hunger for power and recognition. Greed is good, as long as it’s travestied in selflessness and justified by visions sent from God.
Some try to discredit Hildegard’s visions as coming from the devil; others, like young pupil Richardis von Stade (Hannah Herzsprung), develop an emotional dependence so strong we could safely call it lesbian-ish by today’s standards. The relationship between Hildegard and Richardis injects some humanity in this otherwise dull, yet perfectly well produced, historical tale of Middle Age feminism. But von Trotta, who has a conventionally televisual eye, is mostly interested in moving the story along than pausing for effect. There are lengthy sections solely concerned with covering historical ground in which the platonic intimacy between the magistra and the pupil is completely forgotten.
It’s creepy to think that so much of the same dynamics, politics, and codes of conduct governing the cloister over a thousand years ago live on. Even creepier to realize how “God” is used as something of a joker card, symbolic capital to justify any intention, in very similar ways that our contemporary notions of “freedom,” “patriotism,” and “change” are thrown around in public discourse—and eaten up like nontoxic candy. Thank God for the flesh, which sooner or later, isn’t “properly” conquered and outs the human inside the habit.