I have always been interested in the history of women leaders throughout the centuries. This interest stems from my fascination with feminism and with wanting to learn alternative histories. I was taught more about St. Augustine of Hippo and what the Medici did for the beauty of the churches than I did about Hildegard. I think that if I had known about her when I was learning the history of the Church, I might have stayed in the Church longer. But she was always only barely mentioned as one of the first nuns to start her own cloister away from the brothers. That is because she was a rebel. She was a rebel because she did what she wanted while still following the command of God. When she decided that the nuns she was in charge of would be better off living by themselves so they could stay away from temptations of the flesh, she did not ask nicely. She was accused of a heretic and the devil incarnate several times throughout her life. And yet she wrote. She wrote about her visions, she wrote about what she learned as a Magistra in charge of several young women, she wrote about the healing powers of nature and certain herbs and she wrote praises to God. All of these things were unheard of in the life of a nun, a person that is supposed to be humble and silent for their whole lives.
This film is interesting in that it explores the many tribulations that Hildegard had to endure, along with her many successes. Hildegard, played brilliantly by Barbara Sukowa, is a resolute creature who knows what she wants from the very beginning of the film. She wants to be loved by God and to serve him in the best way possible. Her ideas and visions bump heads with the men in charge (and may I stress Men) and she is punished several times. But there are thankfully people who understand her and nurture her so that she could become the headstrong and radical woman her manuscripts so clearly reveal.
I love historical dramas set in ancient Catholic times. The architecture and the clothes give so much material for the cinematographer, director, actor, and costume designer to play around with. This film does not disappoint. My favorite sequences are when Hildegard breaks off from the brothers and she forges out to make her own cloister. The scenes where she is hard at work surrounded by her sisters is beautiful. The wooded scenes of her on horseback remind me of Lord of the Rings mythology with the mist and the different shades of green.
This film does not bring anything to the table that you wouldn’t have gotten if you read a biography of Hildegard’s life. I still think that it is worth a watch just to see Hildegard come to life in this era that is so different from our own. And yet… I won’t say it.