Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen

In early 12th century Germany, Hildegard von Bingen was a Benedictine abbess, visionary, theologian, physician, botanist, poet, writer of liturgical songs and the author of the first surviving morality play. This amazing, intelligent woman was elected by her fellow nuns as magistra and she founded monasteries at Rupertsberg and Eibingen. Margarethe Von Trotta directs Barbara Sukowa, who plays this phenomenal lady of “Vision.”

Laura's Review: B+

On the morning of the first day of the first Millennium, a young girl awoke amidst a group who hadn't expected to see the sun the next day. She was brought by her parents to a Benedictine Abbot as a gift to God. Thirty years later, the young girl had become a well respected nun who confided in her friend, the monk Volmar (Heino Ferch, "Downfall"), that since she was very young, God had spoken to her in "Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen." Writer/director/art director Margarethe von Trotta ("Rosa Luxemburg," "Rosenstrasse") has made a film about a nun from the twelfth century that resonates today. Politics and commercial considerations corrupt religion and women with only their faces and hands allowed to show are kept under the thumbs of men. Until, that is, Hildegard von Bingen (Barbara Sukowa, "Berlin Alexanderplatz," "Zentropa") not only makes a feminist stand but is blessed with the regard of Archbishops, Popes and Kings. Thankfully von Trotta and her amazing star (the sixty year-old Sukowa convincingly ages from thirty-eight onwards) are not afraid to make their real life heroine deeply flawed, a decision which gives the film strong dramatic pull. Young Hildegard is entrusted to the daughter of the Cloister's chief benefactor. Jutta von Sponheim (Mareile Blendl) is a warm, maternal presence who pairs her with her namesake, but her preference for Hildegard soon becomes obvious, resulting in a lifetime's worth of envy, a vice von Sponheim teaches them is evil, for Jutta. Thirty years later, when the older woman dies, Hildegard and Jutta (Lena Stolze, "The White Rose," "Rosenstrasse") are saddened to find her waist wrapped in barbed chains (self flagellation being common at the time, although, apparently a practice von Bingen was against). Hildegard astonishes the Abbott (Alexander Held, "Downfall," "Sophie Scholl") for the first time when she rejects his decision that she assume Jutta's Magistra role. She insists that her frequent illnesses make her unsuitable and says she will only agree if her fellow nuns vote her in. They do. Once Volmar brings a transcription of her visions to the Abbott, things take a highly political turn, but Hildegard has a way of making things work in her favor. As her fame grows, a prominent noblewoman (Sunnyi Melles, "The Baader Meinhof Complex") brings her daughter, Richardis von Stade (Hannah Herzsprung, "The Baader Meinhof Complex," "The Reader"), to the cloister to be taught under Hildegard. The sixteen year-old radiates adoration and the relationship that develops is another to give Jutta concern. It will cause the only rebellion Hildegard makes that turns her champions against her, albeit not permanently. Perhaps Hildegard's most radical achievement was the establishment of her own cloister. Von Trotta makes the pregnancy of a young nun the impetus for von Bingen's demand, which she eventually wins through the Archbishop of Mainz. Some nuns rebel during the construction, giving von Trotta a platform to voice von Bingen's all too human flaws through them. Von Trotta touches on von Bingen's amazing achievements, but doesn't give them all equal shrift. Her love for music is stated, even noted as a healing element, but her vast output of compositions is not, even though her music is used throughout the film. Her botanical and medicinal expertise is shared as she teaches younger nuns how to recognize herbs and their uses. Her plays are served by the performance of one, the first known morality play based on the virtues, which von Trotta ingeniously uses as another occasion for von Bingen to challenge authority and established mores. Oddly, as von Trotta concentrates on the transcription of Hildegard's visions above all, she does not make a connection with von Bingen's lifelong sickliness, which could have been their basis. But she ends her film on a beautiful note - just when she has us believing von Bingen's on her deathbed, another astounding facet of von Bingen's trail blazing is revealed. Although few of the nuns other than Jutta and Richardis are articulated, their faces and types fill out a wonderful cast. Sukowa is exceptional as the complex woman, a Renaissance woman in medieval times whose belief in her visions is tempered by her shrewdness in the political arena. The hysteria Sukowa exhibits when faced with losing Richardis is multi-layered with meaning, her backbone shadowed with pride. She's beautifully supported by both Stolze, who gives Jutta a deep humanity with her conditional love for Hildegard, and by Herzsprung who embodies fanatical hero worship (oddly, only Herzsprung received a nomination in the German film awards). Heino Ferch is warm and humorous as the kindly monk who loves Hildegard, but not blindly. Held supplies the hissable without ever pushing it too far and Melles is notable as much for her handsome stature as for the real world concerns which drive her actions. The film looks glorious. Cinematographer Axel Block is blessed with the events' actual cloister locations and the stunning forests and gardens which surround them. Costume designer Ursula Welter, who also received a German film nomination for her work here, has a terrific eye for detail in the patterns, textures and weights she applies to the simple habits and the ornate oddness of period headdresses worn by nobility. Music is ethereal and authentic.

Robin's Review: B

The comedians – Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Sebasrian Maniscalco - jumped at the chance to help Vaughn create a road show that pays homage to the likes of Buffalo Bill’s original Wild West Show. Opening the tour in Hollywood, MC Vaughn’s starts off by introducing his close friend, Jon Favreau, and young actor Justin Long and giving an improv performance to the delight of the audience. Then, one by one, the four comedians get the chance to strut their stuff. The tour is a nonstop trek that ends in Chicago but makes its comedy stops in Bakersfield CA (home of country music great Buck Owen, who makes an appearance), Las Vegas, Phoenix, El Paso, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Birmingham, Atlanta, Memphis, Detroit and a host of other cities. Unfortunately, plans to entertain in New Orleans and Baton Rouge had to be cancelled because of the devastation by Hurricane Katrina. Undeterred, the traveling show visits one of the many evacuee relocation centers and stage an impromptu matinee show with the proceeds going to the aid of the flood victims. The comedians fare well between their varied, funny performances and talking head interviews with the comics and their families. Ahmed Ahmed gets excellent mileage out of his story about his arrest at an airport just before the 2004 election because of ethnic profiling. He takes a sobering experience and turns it in humor, though with a socially conscious edge. The other stand-up men get their due too. Vaughn’s idea and its execution make for a unique entertainment experience. The entire troupe’s dedication and unslacking energy, though with a few bumps along the way, keeps pace with the grueling cross-country trip by bus that is literally non-stop.