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into great silence

Filed under: — adrian @ 9:11 am

After seeing some good reviews, Libs and I decided to see Into Great Silence (Die Grosse Stille auf Deutsch) (wikipedia/ imdb) on Sunday. Check out the trailer.

It’s a documentary about the Grande Cartreuse, the head monestary of the Carthusian Order. The wikipedia page on the Carthusians is very interesting and gives you a good overview of the Order, but the basics are that they speak only when necessary (not a vow of silence, per se, but they also don’t speak much) and spend much of the day in solitude praying or meditating or performing manual labor. They sometimes get together for communal meals (where they don’t talk, it appears) or other communal time, where they do talk.

There’s also no narration (or music).

And the film is close to 3 hours long.

A three hour film with little-to-no talking and no narration. Sounds like it could be boring, right?

This movie is strange, though. It’s boring, in a sense, but it’s also interesting and fascinating and extremely artistic. The movie goes in cycles; it sort of reminded me of the rondo form in classical music. The repeated elements give you a grounding and then new stuff comes up. It’s also visually very striking. There are many shots throughout the movie that would make great photographs. It also helps that the Grande Cartreuse is isolated in the beautiful French Alps.

Obviously, it’d be silly to say that watching a three hour movie is like living in a monestary for any length of time. But this movie does, in a way. At the end, you feel sort of serene and meditative.

The movie lacks plot in the most obvious ways, but it does have an arc, starting with the newest members and their initiation into being novitiates (I’m guessing) and going to some of the oldest members over the gradual course of the movie. (I’m totally stealing some of these ideas from Libs.) There are some particularly strong moments later in the movie with an old, blind and partially deaf monk talking about life and death.

The movie isn’t entirely made of serious moments, though. It has some moments where the entire theater laughed, particularly a very cute moment of these serious, usually silent monks laughing and sledding/ skidding down a snow-covered hillside.

There are some interesting things that I learned after the movie: the director, Philip Groening, asked the Grande Chartreuse about filming there. Their response was that it was too early, perhaps in 10 or 12 years. 15 years later they called. He spent 6 months living there and did all the filming himself over that time.

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