Man vs woman, light vs dark: was Hildegard’s world really that black and white?

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t really discuss the movie more, or even had a longer discussion comparing Hildegard’s presentation of herself versus how von Trotta represented her. This is just a small discussion on what I thought of the movie and the director’s take on Arts One’s favourite nun.

I know it’s supposed to be for dramatic effect, but I can’t be the only one who thought those dramatic zoom-ins were a little funny. It really reminded me of the cinematography on mockumentary sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Rec.

I’ll admit: I hadn’t even started reading Hildegard von Bingen’s writings before I saw the movie. That was why, I suppose, I was a little disappointed when I read the book. There wasn’t enough conflict between Hildegard and the men to whom she was writing. She constantly put herself down as “a mere woman” to make her voice and her visions more palatable to the men she was addressing. However, Margarethe von Trotta painted von Bingen as this (pardon my language) badass nun who used her gift to gain a higher status not only for herself but for the women around her. She was, essentially, an activist of sorts. This was a nun who fought tooth and claw (or is it nail?) for visions to be considered valid. She was anything BUT “a mere woman”.

I guess my main problem was that the movie pitted von Bingen so fiercely against men. Almost every male character we see in the movie is there to oppose Hildegard von Bingen, to act as an obstacle on her path to success. Only one man, Volmar, was … well, nice to her. I suppose von Trotta’s main point in making almost every man an enemy of Hildegard is that this really was the world that she lived in. Since men had power over women in every way, it would make sense that the von Trotta pitted men so directly against Hildegard von Bingen. One scene that illustrated this relationship was when the nuns of the order performed one of von Bingen’s plays. The women represented the virtues, wore white and stood in the light; the one man in the play (Volmar) depicted the devil, wore black, and stayed in the shadows. You can see this sort of light-versus-dark imagery in another scene where Hildegard is appealing to the big boss priest (I don’t recall what the term is) to build her own monastery and being promptly shot down: Hildegard is standing by the window where the light can directly hit her, while the priest is sort of more in the shadows. A bit of a stretch, I know, but von Trotta makes it obvious from the very beginning, using lighting, that the nuns are the good “guys” and the priests and monks (except for Volmar) are the bad guys.

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