Von Trotta’s fifth film with Sukowa opens with flagellant blood while avoiding the brutality that made The Passion of the Christ so crucifying. Hildegard doesn’t favor flagellation and is upset to find that her spiritual guide wore a barbed belt. She loves God, her nuns, and the natural order in a prematurely Franciscan way (“Listen to the birds”). Her stern, Teutonic face is one to put right near Luther, Holbein, and Wagner. Hildegard’s visions tax her health, yet her life force is great. She relishes old Greek tomes and Arabic medicine and is a gifted musician (the film has lovely singing). Despite formulaic close-ups and some ragged shifts of tone, Von Trotta achieves a fairly sensual grip on the past.
Hildegard’s restless brilliance echoes Assumpta Serna’s Sor Juana in I, the Worst of All and Rachel Weisz’s Alexandrian scholar Hypatia in last summer’s neglected Agora. She is a feminist 800 years ahead of schedule. As so often in religious stories, sex nags like an itch. Von Bingen is harsh with a pregnant nun but enjoys seriously sisterly kisses with another. Braced and resonated by Gothic architecture, the mix of German and Latin often sounds profound. The strong cast includes Heino Ferch as a touchingly sympathetic monk. Hildegard, who died at 81 in 1179, seems utterly of her time and yet well beyond it.
★ ★ ★
News on the March: The charming Cinema Under the Stars venue has extended the closure of its 2010 season by adding another weekend of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the irresistible New York entertainment starring Audrey Hepburn, enjoyably backed by George Peppard, Mickey Rooney, Martin Balsam, the late Patricia Neal, and the fabulous Villalonga. Showing at 8 p.m. tonight, Friday, and Saturday at 4040 Goldfinch, Mission Hills. 619-295-4221.
Reviewed in this week’s capsule listings: Leaving, Mademoiselle Chambon, The Milk of Sorrow, The Next Three Days, and Today’s Special.