Into Great Silence
Time Out says
In 1987 Philip Gröning approached the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps to ask if he could make a film about this reclusive establishment, known mainly for the bright green liqueur produced there. A mere 13 years later it agreed to his request, but with strictures that no crew or lights would be permitted, nor would the filmmaker be allowed to interrupt the monks’ devotions. He would, instead, have to live with them as they live. The resulting extended portrait (note the running time) is one of those rare celluloid experiences that truly transports us into another world, the Carthusian brothers’ daily round of study, worship and silence.The obvious approach here would have been to stick lots of Arvo Pärt, say, on the soundtrack and mollify the audience with a faux-churchy tranquillizer, but Gröning instead cleaves close to the values of his subject matter, shaping an austere but authentic vision through the ’ daily rhythm of candle-lit masses and cloistered study. Also registered are the passing seasons and the logistical upkeep of a routine unchanged for centuries, yet amid the tolling editing patterns and poised compositions, an intent focus on a new black novice and an ailing elderly blind monk sustain human interest too. Indeed, the key device whereby individual monks stare wordlessly into the lens offers up a haunting reminder that the pathway to the divine is a lonely and arduous route. More than any film outside Bresson, this non-judgemental document allows us to feel the spirituality of the ecstatic privations guiding their journey. A Christmas gift of time and contemplation.