“Vision”: Interview with Margarethe von Trotta
One of Europe’s preeminent film directors for more than three decades, Margarethe von Trotta (Rosa Luxemburg,The Promise) was born in Berlin 1942 and relocated to Düsseldorf with her mother after the war. In Paris, where she moved after high school, Von Trotta immersed herself in film culture and became a major fixture of the New German Cinema, acting in early films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Gods of the Plague, Beware of a Holy Whore) and collaborating closely with her ex-husband Volker Schlöndorff, with whom she co-directed the 1975 political drama The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, before helming her first feature three years later. In 1981, Von Trotta won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Marianne and Juliane, about two idealistic sisters caught up in the tumult of ’68-era social revolt (one is a feminist journalist, the other joins a terror cell), the first time the top prize had gone to a female director since Leni Reifenstahl won “the Mussolini Cup” for Olympia in 1938. Since then, she has directed more than 15 feature films that touch on themes of sisterhood, strife, and personal acts of resistance.
Von Trotta’s latest feature, Vision, recounts the life story of 12th-century mystic, composer, and healer Hildegard von Bingen, played by the director’s frequent collaborator, Barbara Sukowa (Berlin Alexanderplatz), who expertly conveys Hildegard’s fierce inner strength and earthy grace. The recorded details of the revered nun’s life are the film’s central mapping points: born in the midst of millennial fervor, Hildegard is tendered to the care of Jutta the Holy (Lena Stolze), a surrogate mother who raises her in the virtues of Saint Benedict at the monastery of Disibodenberg. When the old woman passes on twenty years later, so too does the ascetic tradition of self-flagellation and barbed-wire corsets that defined her age and style of worship. Hildegard is elected abbess and begins to assume the role of seer and modernist reformer, advancing the cause of science and medicine as much as her own mystical visions, which make her the object of cultish veneration and place her at odds with petty Abbot Kuno (Alexander Held). She’s also, in Von Trotta’s rendering, a protofeminist figure, abandoning traditional codes of behavior in performing her famous musical morality play Ordo Virtutum and demanding a separate cloister for the sisters when a young nun is discovered to be pregnant, taking her case up the chain to the Archbishop of Mainz. A film about love and friendship as well as virtue and knowledge (Hildegard’s closest friend is the curate Volmar, played by Heino Ferch), Vision is a passionate portrait of a mercurial figure who may have lived in an age of unquestioned faith, but whose polymathic talents and worldly, independent cast of mind make her an icon as worthy of modern regard as Leonardo Da Vinci or Simone de Beauvoir. Read the rest of my interview at Filmmaker.