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No Greater Love
3 out of 5 stars
Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Tucked away just off Ladbroke Grove, the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity has been there since 1878, but only now have cameras been allowed a peek inside. The result is a gently reflective portrait which unobtrusively records the daily lot of this cloistered order, but doesn’t really dig much deeper than that. Unfolding against the passing seasons, the film quietly observes Carmelite nuns as they carry out devotions and domestic chores alike, maintaining a vow of silence relaxed only during official recreation time. The buzz of a chainsaw in the garden, the ‘chinnnngg!’ of an iMac start-up and the rumble of nearby traffic noise are reminders of the modern world, but the liturgical rituals and soundless prayers hint at the sisters’ daily engagement with another realm seemingly beyond our reach.
A quartet of impeccably articulate senior nuns voice their opinions on prayer as ‘a place where God can come and speak’, but also hint at their struggles to keep the faith during years when they’ve felt alone and unanswered. Such vulnerability humanises them for a moment, as do the amusing incongruities of eco-friendly washing powder or jaunty folk dancing. Mostly, though, there remains a benign distance between subject and viewer, which director Michael Whyte’s modest, somewhat passive approach is unable to breach – no match for the palpable cinematic transcendence of ‘Into Great Silence’, Philip Gröning’s monumentally framed 2005 study of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the Swiss Alps. ‘No Greater Love’ knows what spirituality looks like but, pleasantly calming though it is, can’t really take us inside.