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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

b) Medioevo cinematografico / Cinematographic Middle Ages

1) Vision: but of which Hildegard von Bingen?

Luca Polidoro

Texte intégral

1In order to analyze the perspective with which Marga­rethe von Trotta represented the figure of Hildegard von Bingen (Ber­mersheim vor der Höhe, 1098 - Bingen am Rhein, 17 September 1179) in her film Vision - Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen (2009), it is appropriate to look at the work of the German director in light of contemporary sources for the necessary historical-chronological, philosophical, and above all theological monastic contextualization. The film, presented in competition at the International Film Festival of Rome but never dubbed into Italian or distributed in Italy in cinemas, is only available in English, German, and Spanish. On Facebook, the group “Il medioevo non è stata un’epoca buia” has promoted events—so far without success—to solicit dubbing and airing of the film on national television networks; successively, the group “Ildegarda in Italiano” made the original version in German with Italian subtitles available.

2In Vision, Margarethe von Trotta reunites with recurrent star Barbara Sukowa to bring the story of Hildegard to life. But in the movie Hildegard is basically an eccentric woman, with a markedly materialistic-immanentist connotation, who sees things that others do not see and also hears strange “celestial symphonies” (without their origin or finality being investigated). She is portrayed as a woman more of strong determination than of faith, who overcame many obstacles to realize her dreams.

3She also stages—among her cheerful sisters, as if an opera singer ante litteram or the star of a proto-musical—a strange Ordo virtutum, complete with parodic priest-devil, played by the faithful Volmar (the only one who follows her), blessed among the women in the monastery of Rupertsberg. An ambiguous sensuality—perhaps the true stylistic key to the work—runs through the film in bodies that escape heavy garments, their appearance bordering on lasciviousness.

4The movie gives a very inaccurate picture of who the “Sybil of the Rhine” really was. The historical figure of Hildegard was a great woman because of her Catholic faith. In contrast to that historical reality, the movie Vision emphatically sends the message that she was a great woman in spite of her Catholic faith. This premise, on which the entire movie is based, could be very misleading to the viewer in forming impressions about the true nature of medieval Christianity, as well as of the actual life of Hildegard.

5The radical message of the movie Vision is anti-men and thus predictably anti-Church, which is caricatured as oppressively patriarchal to the point of being evil. Men in this movie are the enemies of virtue and goodness in every way. The monks and bishops whom Hildegard variously opposes and manipulates are portrayed as greedy, cunning, cold-hearted men, interested in Hildegard’s visions only because they presume to take profit from her. No doubt there were greedy monks in the Middle Ages, but the film’s presentation of monasticism as intrinsically oppressive is simplistic. Even the pope and St. Bernard are portrayed as figures whom Hildegard manipulates into supporting her mission of overthrowing patriarchy.

6Where does Hildegard find beauty, freedom, vision, healing, and goodness? The movie’s agenda here is apparent throughout: in the earth, in the elements, in the human soul, in the body, in herbs and crystals. The injection of a New Age “Mother Earth as Goddess” spirituality into a medieval setting is an example of more historical inaccuracy in Vision. Hildegard is presented as a great healer and visionary to the extent that she goes “back to nature” rather than being formed and guided by the beauty and wisdom of Christ and the Christian faith (which in the movie’s portrayal is not beautiful or wise at all but evilly oppressive).

7About the question of how Hildegard is significant or relevant to the present day, in fact, von Trotta answers: “The film addresses two issues that are important to us today. One is the holistic approach to medicine. She once said, ‘First the soul must heal; then the body will follow.’ The other was the warning that the elements could turn against us. At the time people spoke of elements; today we speak of nature turning against us, or destroying us, if we don’t protect it. Both of these points make her relevant” (​2010/​10/​interview-with-director-margarethe-von-trotta/​ [last consultation: 30/09/2018]). Vision, by its distortion of historical truth and its unapologetic attack on the Catholic Christian tradition of monastic life authentically lived in poverty, chastity, and obedience, does not reveal the truth and beauty of the life of Hildegard of Bingen but rather obscures and distorts it for the sake of advancing a political agenda.




Università degli Studi di Firenze

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