Saturday, November 13, 2010

Best Film About a Woman Religious since Maria Luisa Bemberg's I, The Worst of All

This melodramatic trailer does not do justice to the amazing film by Margarethe von Trotta that I saw at the Music Box today, about the life of Hildegard of Bingen - an 11th century Benedictine abbess and mystic who truly was a holy mother and yogi.

She went into the cloister at eight (as a gift from her family) and took her vows at 16. She was under the guidance of a spiritual mother in what to me looked like a guru-disciple relationship. When her spiritual mother passed, she was told to take over as magistra or prioress - but wouldn't do so until the other women voted her in. Later, she receives her own disciple - a young girl who throws herself at her feet and helps her transcribe the visions of "the living light" of God she'd been having since she was three. Along the way Hildegard breaks away and founds a couple of new cloisters, writes many books and musical compositions and an early liturgical drama, and travels to preach - unheard of for a woman at that time.

Back in 1990, when I saw Maria Bemberg's film I, the Worst of All (about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz - below - the Mexican woman who became a nun in order to have freedom to learn), I viewed her thirst for knowledge and run-ins with patriarchy through the lens of feminism, and it resonated with me.

I viewed the new film through the lens of yoga, and what resonated was the guru-disciple relationship, the life of work, study, healing, music, prayer and meditation - what an amazing ashram Hildegard created! - the rebellious idea of following one's inner intuition, and direct experience of God as the "living light." I also loved that they were women, and not men in loincloths on mountains somewhere. To me, it was all about yoga.

I also loved this quote, when Hildegard began to experience doubt:

"The almighty has given you wings to fly. Fly over every obstacle."

And this epithet:

"Blood of vipers!"

It's at the Music Box til Thursday. Timings are here.

A student at last weekend's retreat said she read all about St. Clare of Assisi - who also deserves a film. And my dear sister Parvati just finished a book about Sri Sarada Devi, the wife of Ramakrishna. The holy mothers are there - if you know where to look.


  1. Wow, C. this is amazingly inspired writing. What a concept you're developing.

  2. What I loved about the film was that she devoted her life to direct realization of God (and helping others reach the Goal) and yet was somehow able to empower herself in the outside world *and* create art.

    It's something I'd never seen before and didn't think was possible. And that was back in the Middle Ages!

  3. Boo Boo Bear5:41 PM

    I wonder how much of the movie was true to life and how much was fiction. Especially the part when Richardis leaves her community... Hildegard did not show yogic non-attachment. I wonder if that was b/c it's a movie (i.e. it added some drama) or b/c that was really her reaction.

    The movie is also a good reminder that "ashram life" isn't always a piece of cake.

    In any case, 'twas quite good. Thanks for the info on the movie!

  4. BBB,

    At first, when she reacted so violently to Richardis leaving, I thought, "She's not practicing non-attachment." Then, later, when we learned the tragic outcome of her leaving, I thought, "She KNEW Richardis should stay with her, and that's why she didn't want her to leave." Quite a different motivation.