More than 2 ½-hours of, yes, Silence is both moving and a test of endurance

Into Great Silence

on February 28, 2007 by Tim Cogshell
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The oldest and most cloistered monastery of the mystical order of Carthusian monks, the Grande Chartreuse at the Saint-Pierre de Chartreuse, in Isere, France, is both location and subject of French filmmaker Philip Groning's languid, yet utterly captivating, documentary look inside a place of utter devotion and the men (although there are Carthusian nuns) who live by its creed.

Into Great Silence is the result of 20 years of Groning's personal solicitations to the Grand Prior of this strictest Roman Catholic sect for the privilege of shooting inside the Grande Charteuse (roughly “Charter House”) in and among the brothers of the order. When permission was finally granted, the rules laid out for the project were as strict as the order itself: There would be no overt talking while shooting, nor commentary or music added to the finished film; no crew was allowed, so Groning shot alone, often living in a cell among the monks; and the use of artificial lights or overt equipment was prohibited, thus the use of small digital cameras and discreet sound-gathering apparatus. The result is a movie that captures the day-to-day rhythms and repetitions of this place and these men, what it looks like to be there (which is colorless and stark), and what it sounds like, which is silent, save the occasional meditative chants and whispers.

Yet the film is not without a narrative of sorts. The three central subjects include a young black novice monk, an elderly monk who tends to the monasteries buildings and grounds, and a blind monk whose main devotion is prayer and offering. Nevertheless, with a running time of more than two-and-one-half hours of mostly the same actions over and over, the movie itself is a trial of devotional endurance. Groning uses the few elements at hand to create a film that emulates, yet condenses, the experience of monastic life practiced in its most devotional form for audiences who would otherwise never know or understand these things and what they can mean to the human condition.

Into Great Silence is a challenging but worth-it experience for more reasons than one can actually speak (or write) in words. It's a documentary to be watched over time, with a Carthusian level of contemplation. Distributor: Zeitgeist
Director/Screenwriter: Philip Groning
Producers: Philip Groning, Michael Weber, Andres Pfaffli and Elda Guidinetti
Genre: Documentary; French- and Latin-language, subtitled
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 169 min.
Release date: March 9, 2007 LA

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