An interesting topic that arose in today’s make-up seminar [Hendricks] was the different ways in which Hildegard was portrayed in Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision and in our Selected Writings text.
What struck me was how the two pieces delivered very different meanings in the context of feminism. Von Trotta is a director with an undoubtedly feminist agenda; her filmography consists primarily of films with strong, independent female figures. Hildegard represents such a character – her story boasts of strength in the face of the misogynistic Christian faith. One area of the film where von Trotta’s feminist agenda is expressed is in the segments of Hildegard’s life to which she adds emphasis (and those which she neglects). Vision skips over Hildegard’s early life in the monastery at Disibodenburg where she would have received most of her theological education, which leads us to believe that von Trotta’s interest lay more in Hildegard’s character than the spiritual context surrounding her. This claim is strengthened by the fact that Hildegard’s visions are very underplayed and implicit in the film; Vision seems to be more engaged with the physical aspects of her life than the metaphysical ones. The film is set during the time when Hildegard establishes herself as a mystic and solidifies her reputation. This coincides with a few occasions where doubt in her is expressed by male members of the church; yet each time, Hildegard is able to stand her ground and rally support for her preachings. This creates an image of a very strong and determined Hildegard to an audience of Vision.
From a more technical standpoint, the feminist agenda can also be seen in the film language in Vision. One technique used by von Trotta that struck me especially was the ways in which the director juxtaposed men and women in the film. The men, who are almost exclusively members of the church, always appear in an inside setting. The overall mood of shots with men in them, for example when high-standing members of the church come to visit the monastery at Disibodenburg to come to a verdict on the legitimacy of Hildegard’s vision, is somber. Faces are often shadowed, and dark colours dominate these shots. This application of mise en scène is heavily contrasted to the women in Vision, primarily Hildegard’s sisters in the monastery. They often appear outside, in the gardens of the monastery, in a bright and colourful setting. There is a strong association made between the women, led by Hildegard, and nature in the film. One concrete example is when the sisters pack their things and leave to establish a new cloister just for nuns – shots of the nuns with their wagons riding through the bright and colourful woods, accompanied by cheerful music, are contrasted to dark and quiet shots of the brothers of the monastery sitting inside, dark expressions on their shadowed faces. Apart from the positive association that von Trotta creates to women, and the negative one to men, the director also uses film language to further establish Hildegard’s strong character. An example in the area of cinematography is that, whenever Hildegard is making a demand of a priest or taking a stand, the audience is shown a close-up up Hildegard’s face. This makes her seem powerful and resolute.
The Selected Writings text paints rather a different picture of Hildegard, in my opinion. For one, the text is not tainted by another persons opinion of Hildegard as Vision is; it merely consists of the visionaries various writings. Undoubtedly, Hildegard understood her place in the world -she realised that, as a woman, she was severely disadvantaged and that she had to act in a meek and subordinate manner so that men would not feel threatened by her. We can see this through the way that she describes herself when writing to important members of the church. And although Hildegard’s actions reflect an important step for women in her time period, I don’t believe that she herself was a feminist. Hildegard did the things that she did not in the interest of women, but so that she could record the words of God that were spoken through her. Another example of this in literature could be Antigone in Sophocles’ tragedy bearing the same name – she rebels against the male-dominated state and its laws but not with that purpose.