Writer-director-actor-feminist and New German Cinema icon Margarethe von Trotta takes on the illustrious cloister career of another multi-hyphenate, the Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen (one-time Fassbinder protégé Barbara Sukowa), in Vision, a transporting German pastoral. Hildegard, a 12th-century visionary, herbalist, chant composer, and general polymath, also engages in before-her-time skirmishes with church authorities, and as abbey magistra administers tough love to her fellow nuns—a history von Trotta relates through overlapping episodes rather than a single hail-mary biopic arc.
Vision, which opens with some panicked end-of-the-first-millennium doomsaying, goes on to cast convent life as a kind of fever dream, glimpsing self-flagellating monks through cracked doorways and gazing with a more sympathetic directness on nuns’ sickbed agonies. As Hildegard comes into her own (her Bildung-and-change is marked by a substantial 30-years-later title-card jump), Sukowa makes the wages-of-sin stakes felt through her intent great-beyond gaze, which pierces during rapt vision recountings as well as scenes concerning the rocky tutelage of Richardis, a young nun of noble extraction deliriously bound to Hildegard. Cinematographer Axel Block’s interiors are remarkably painterly, registering the austere coldness of stone-vaulted convent rooms and the devotional warmth of candelight. The mostly sober film concludes on a dissonantly conventional note of buddy-movie pluck, but overall von Trotta’s canvas of medieval faith impresses in its detail.
Opens October 13 at Film Forum