Hank’s Recommendations 12/30/14


This is an eloquent film whose spare dialogue is as brief and succinct as its title, IDA, a Polish film where a picture (a scene, even a frame) is worth a thousand scripted words.

On the cusp of her ordination, Anna, an eighteen-year old novice, is sent by her prioress on a final journey into the “real” world to visit an aunt, her only known family. The aunt, it turns out, is a cynical, cigarette-smoking, alcoholic former judge who reveals “Anna” is Jewish and that her real name is Ida.

Partly out of curiosity and partly out of whim, the aunt takes Ida on a further journey to their old family home to locate the circumstances of Ida’s parents’ death during the Nazi era. The ensuing revelations, along with the collision of innocence and newly found experience, lead to the suspense of whether or not Ida will take her vows. Stunningly filmed in black and white (another kind of brevity), the film portrays a world where things are not simply black and white — certainly not the black and white of a nun’s habit. Or are they?


Two weeks ago in our Performance Space we had a screening, along with a lively discussion led by Fairfield University professor Elizabeth Dreyer, of a staggeringly beautiful film — VISION, by famed German director Margarethe von Trotta. The movie portrays the life of early twelfth century Benedictine nun, Hildegard von Bingen, a Christian mystic, composer, playwright, poet, painter, physician, herbalist and ecological activist, who iconoclastically was determined to expand the role of women in the religious order she led. Touching on feminism, power, sexuality and art, this unexpectedly modern film about a medieval subject envelops the audience not only in the light of Hildegard’s visions but in the lushly exquisite lighting of a movie that brings us back to a woman whose thinking was centuries ahead of it time.


His final movie, which he directed on a respirator from a wheelchair while half blind, THE DEAD is one of John Huston’s most beautiful films, and certainly his most intimate. This largely interior and poetic yet unsentimental drama, a long way from the scope and adventure of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, portrays a turn-of-the century Christmas dinner in Dublin where the snow falls ceaselessly and the conversation ranges widely. The dinner, in the end, leads to a ravishing revelation in an upper middle-class couple (Anjelica Huston and Frank Patterson) about the difference between existing and living. This film, a paean to his Irish homeland, is Huston’s valedictory to his enduring theme of the fickleness of time and fate and, above all, the difference between existing and living.

Film screening: “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen” on Mon., Dec. 15, at 7 PM

Vision_WebBest Video Performance Space screens the 2009 Margarethe von Trotta-directed film “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen” on Monday, Dec. 15. The screening begins at 7 PM and admission is $5. Elizabeth A. Dreyer, professor emerita of religious sudies at Fairfield University and an adjunct  professor at Hartford Seminary, will present the film and lead the optional post-film discussion.

“Vision” presents the story of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century Christian mystic, Benedictine nun, composer, writer and scientist. A Renaissance person before the Renaissance.

Roger Ebert wrote:

As embodied here by the powerful presence of Barbara Sukowa, she was a considerable woman, and succeeded in gaining almost everything she desired, despite a church hierarchy controlled by men. From the age of 4, she reported visions of God, and as these continued, they gave her authority and won her followers. Indeed, although in a cloister, she was permitted to go on speaking journeys and became quite widely known.

From Stephen Holden’s review in The New York Times:

“Vision” offers a hard-headed view of 12th-century religiosity in which church politics and money conflict with the characters’ asceticism. It portrays Hildegard as a passionate humanitarian and a lover of nature who is shocked and disgusted by the mortification of the flesh through rituals like self-flagellation and extreme fasting… The film meticulously ticks off Hildegard’s accomplishments. She composed Gregorian chants, fragments of which are heard in the film. She was a playwright whose lyrical drama, “Ordo Virtutum” is excerpted in a scene in which the nuns, as they were allowed to do on certain holidays, frolic in silk gowns and jewels. She was a scholar who amassed a library at a time when books were rare and difficult to obtain, and she was a practitioner of holistic medicine with advanced knowledge of herbal healing.

View the trailer:

Elizabeth A. Dreyer is the author or editor of nine books, including Making Semse of God: A Woman’s Perspective, and has written extensively on topics such as medieval theology and spirituality, women’s spirituality, and contemporary lay spirituality. Hildegard von Bingen is one of the subjects of Professor Dreyer’s most recent book, Accidental Theologians: Four Women Who Shaped Christianity.