Saturday, September 12, 2009

Margarethe von Trotta's "Vision" at Toronto International Film Festival

I can’t express how much I enjoyed the journey that German director Margarethe von Trotta took us on in her Vision. A highly respected veteran of presenting film with a keen feminist eye, von Trotta pieces together the story of Hildegard von Bingen, a devout nun, visionary, composer and challenger of virile norms that dominated Benidictine rule and the Church’s everyday function in Medieval times.

With a keen attraction to understanding human strive and nature and balancing in with scientific discourse, set in what we now know as Germany, the story paints the story of a woman that felt she was beckoned by God to be a Messenger of light. This period was one of much social turmoil and suffering.

Vision takes place in an era when many claimed to have direct communication with God but rarely were they actually believed, particularly women. However somehow the pious and ever-confidant Hildegard manages to win the favour of many around her and is even voted as magistra when her mother magistra passes away. She excels and teaches with genuine compassion as a leader but still meets resistance in male clergymen who feel threatened by her power. Even some of her fellow nuns begin to fear her rebellious nature.

Relentless and sure of her appointment to be a messenger of God’s word, she is one of the first women to boldly preach and interpret scripture. She even bravely writes to the Pope about her visions knowing that she may be seen as a heretic.

Her accomplishments also include managing to convince an Archbishop to allow her to move her sisters to a hillside and build a convent away from Disibodenberg abbey. Hildegard’s desire to move away from the abbey is shocking but not without purpose. Tragedy strikes when one of the nuns breaks her vow of celibacy with a male clergyman and is found out and thus commits suicide. Hildegard intervenes to prevent this fate from being bestowed upon anymore of her sisters, as in the end she is aware that a woman will always be seen as the perpetuator of evil and seduction.

Hildegard suffers her entire life with weak health and loss, and she manages to overcome much devastation until one particular loss causes her to leak her true vulnerability and push her over the edge.

Babara Sukowa who plays Hildegard spoke at the Q & A following the film about how she studied the writings, song and myth of Hildegard with immense care because of the iconic statured that she has risen to in recent years to take her rightful place in German and women’s history. Her moments on-screen are always full of intensity, yet there still manages to be a peaceful aura that surrounds her gentle mannerisms and emotional rawness.

Berlin born Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision is rich in history, imagery and heart. This piece is a Toronto International Film Festival gem.
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