I was intrigued last fall when I read the NY Times review of this film by Margarethe von Trotta so we went as soon as we found out it was playing in Madison. Hildegard is a fascinating character–a Benedictine abbess who had visions, wrote music, visionary works, as well as books on healing and nature. The film is by one of Germany’s most important directors. It’s not a great film, by any means, but for the most part it comes across as a fairly decent historical depiction of Hildegard. The film does a good job of showing the interplay of religion, politics, and family ties, and also highlights the patriarchy of the Middle Ages and of the medieval Church. At times, it seems to be something of a catalog of Hildegard’s activities, moving from scenes showing her instructing her nuns on the healing powers of herbs, to composing music, to writing. The visions are a constant and von Trotta also subtly raises questions about the relationship between Hildegard’s physical ailments and her religious experiences. She also hints that Hildegard may have used faked illness to get her way.
It’s definitely worth seeing if you are interested in medieval history or German cinema, but if you’re looking for action and excitement, the most you’ll get are a few scenes of monks and nuns flagellating themselves, a practice Hildegard criticized.