VISION (Margarethe von Trotta, 2009)

Seventeenth-century convents must be more to my taste than 12th-century ones, given that I enjoy Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) so much more than I do Margarethe von Trotta’s slow-as-sludge and deadly dull Vision—Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen. And while I’m in the mood to compare nectarines and lemons, let me add that I generally praise to the heavens von Trotta’s films, having disliked only (now) two of them, and having either liked or loved very many more.
     I shall go further. I yield to no one in my admiration of Barbara Sukowa. Thrice—thrice—I have named Sukowa’s acting the year’s best, for Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980), Rosa Luxemburg (von Trotta, 1985—now there was a collaboration!), and Europa (Lars von Trier, 1991). And, please, let’s not forget that this brilliant actress was the haunting Ghost in the Machine in Johnny Mnemonic (Robert Longo, 1995) starring Keanu Reeves! As the German nun with visions—an actual person who composed music and possessed knowledge of the spiritual life of stones—in von Trotta’s medieval Vision, however, Sukowa might as well be the lousiest actress on Earth, for all the depth and variety she brings to the role.
     It isn’t all that interesting that even so unlovable a person as Hildegard should still want to be loved, or that she felt in need of love, given her mother’s abandonment of her when she was a child and the anemic bridegroom to whom she was wedded. Perhaps all this might have been better as a vignette, even an aside, in a film about something else.
     Anything else.

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