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Testament of Herman Finkers: don't brood on this wonderful life

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a composer, scientist, writer, doctor, mystic and founder of a convent. So a Catholic nun, but one who did explore the female orgasm.

The latter paradox resonates, Herman Finkers obviously realised when he wrote the screenplay for 'The Legs of St Hildegard'. Hildegard's description of the orgasm read: 'When a woman makes love to a man, her brain experiences a sensation of heat. This sensation is accompanied by sensual rapture. This heated sensation is an expression of that rapturous experience during the act and triggers ejaculation in the man.

And when the seed has reached the destined place, the fiery heat descending from her brain draws the seed towards it and holds it. Soon the woman's sexual organs contract. And all the parts that open during menstruation now close in the same way a strong man can clench something in his fist.'

From a pulpit, you will see this fiery 'quote nun' from the Catholic saint Hildegard not hear; in the film, silently lighting a candle by Finkers at the end is adequate. It was about a journey; Lorelei was just a destination.

Finkers wrote a happy, tragicomic, alternately carnivalesque and melancholic scenario, steeped in human frailty and therefore Catholic; but the church remains largely out of the picture. Even the father-in-law's funeral as a beginning literally bypasses the local church after which the scenes surrounding his funeral cremation form the hilarious thread.

Under the slab

That runs through relationsores in three generations with the same pattern: the dead goody-goody, says the grandson at the funeral, has been released from his captivity of wife after 63 years of marriage; their daughter Gedda (Johanna ter Steege) makes the life of Jan (Finkers himself) with mothering into one protracted agony; their daughter Liesbeth (Leonie ter Braak) sighs under the yoke of paranoid control by boyfriend dear.

Escaping succeeds Jan with a comic trick: feigning dementia. Laying it on thick, the story becomes hilarious. That Jan posthumously grants his father-in-law the fulfilment of his last wish is beautifully spun out. The dialogues, not a word too many in understated emotion, carry the film.

A fourth set, that of said grandson (Stef Assen) and son of Gedda and Jan, provides the counterpoint; just bob along with the flow, take life as it is and love. Above all, the message of 'The Legs of St Hildegard' is: for God's sake, stop fretting; let the other flourish. 'Two logs on top of each other, that doesn't make a fire. They have to be a bit apart to breathe.'

It is Finkers' testament to us, his next of kin: give each other a little space. He is not the pedantic pastor who says: thou shalt not divorce, nor: thou shalt love each other as thyself, but one who shows this in the mildest way, with irony in a simple but telling story. In other words, 'show, don't tell'.

Visual message

Which may have been why, at 65, Hermenegildus Felix Victor Maria Finkers was happy to add a film to his life's work of ten theatre programmes and a New Year's Eve conference: a visual medium that sticks. Just as his faith is evocative, and he thrives on the music of Hildegard van Bingen.

A film made with so much love and pleasure under Johan Nijenhuis who, with a roped-in crew, beautifully shapes his sense of the light and air of rural Twente. He and his Tukkers in Twente dialect make this an unforgettable film. Well, as long as you want to remember it, because there may come a time when forgetting everything is needed for a while....

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Legs of St Hildegard: trailer, still in cinemas and later on television with co-financier Omroep Max.

Peter Olsthoorn

Freelance journalist, does interviews and science for Intermediair; writes and speaks on topics including digitisation, data analytics, fraud and media for dailies/congresses; reviews theatre; and is daily grateful.View Author posts

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