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Friday, September 30, 2016
Into Great Silence
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In 1987, director Philip Gröning contacted the Great Chartreuse monastery set in a remote corner of the French Alps, to ask if he could make a film there. Thirteen years later the community granted his request, on condition that no crew or lights would be used, nor would the filming be allowed to interrupt the monks' prayers.

For six months, Gröning lived in the monastery, filming the monks' daily round of work, study, worship and silence. The resulting portrait is one of those rare cinema experiences that truly transports us into another world. We follow the daily office, candle-lit Masses and cloistered study through the passing seasons. A new novice arrives. A frail elderly blind monk is cared for by his brothers. The film tracks the infinitely repeated routines.

In one scene, a monk bathed in shadow, delivers lunch through hatches in the cell doors. The cameraman then goes inside where the monks sleep on straw beds, with only a tin stove for heating. Outside, the snow-swept scenery of the French Alps provides a majestic backdrop.

There are unexpected moments too ­ in one a group of monks gleefully take turns to slide down a snowy mountain slope. From time to time a jet plane is seen passing overhead. Raindrops, leaves and flowers are closely observed.

Speaking about the monks, Gröning said: "I think they live like this because they choose to become close to God." "It's a very simple concept, the concept is that God himself, is pure happiness, and the closer you move to that, the happier you are." "Once you accept the fact that when the bell rings - you just don't think about it - you just get up and go and do whatever that bell requires you to do, then, every moment you have is a pretty permanently present moment," he said. "You don't have to sort of plan, like 'What do I do in two years?... Where do I want my career to be in 15 years?' And the absence of language makes something - the moment itself becomes very, very strong." Gröning said: "When I left the monastery, I was thinking about what exactly had I lived through and I realised that I had had the privilege of living with a community of people who live practically without any fears." "They have the feeling that death is just a transition, they have the feeling that if something goes wrong, then it's OK because it's something that God wanted."

An exceptionally beautiful and refreshing film to see at the beginning of a new year.

Originally posted on ICN  2 January 2007 - 426 words
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