Monday, June 29, 2015

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski's "The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims"

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski is Professor of French at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. She is the author of several books, including Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism (1378-1417).

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest book, The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims: A Medieval Woman Between Demons and Saints:
Unlike my previous scholarly books this one actually has a plot and a riveting one at that. A simple woman named Ermine, widowed and penniless in late medieval Reims, moves into a room near her confessor, an Augustinian friar, whose ambition is to make her a saint. For the last ten months of her life she has horrible visions of demons in human and animal shape that invade her room and even take her on an aerial journey on a demonic flying horse. She’s middle-aged and apparently still attractive to some men since at one point she receives a marriage proposal. Her confessor is accused of having a sexual interest in her and demons accost her in the street calling her a whore. After her death of the plague in 1396 her confessor gets in touch with Jean Gerson, the powerful chancellor of the University of Paris -- who’s a kind of arbiter of the supernatural -- and sends him the text of the visions that he transcribed from Ermine’s testimony. He wants Gerson’s opinion on whether Ermine was indeed saintly. Gerson is ultracautious (he says neither yes, nor no) but twenty years later condemns her as an impostor.

So there are some juicy roles in this drama. First of all Ermine: she’s illiterate but seems to have some charisma. My first choice would be the Belgian actress and director Yolande Moreau whose fantastic 2008 performance as the early 20th-century painter Séraphine makes her perfect for the role of a simple-minded woman, gifted in certain areas, confused and frightened by visions, and starting to live in her own world of hallucinations.

For the role of the confessor who takes her under his wing the German actor Ulrich Tukur who played the famous art critic and dealer Wilhelm Uhde in Séraphine (directed by Martin Provost) would be ideal: a calm, caring, and encouraging presence who nevertheless cannot suppress his ambitions for the simple woman he supports.

Lest it seem that I cannibalize only Séraphine I would cast F. Murray Abraham as Gerson, the famous theologian and consummate politician, a conflicted personality, eventually hounded from his home after the post-Agincourt (1415) English invasion of France. The film could be framed as a retrospective with Gerson looking back to about 1400 when he first heard about Ermine. The huge cast of demons would probably come from special effects. And I would want Yolande Moreau to direct the film or else Margarethe von Trotta who brought the 12th-century visionary and scholar Hildegard von Bingen to life in her wonderful 2009 film Vision with Barbara Sukowa as Hildegard.
Writers Read: Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski.

--Marshal Zeringue