Into Great Silence / Die Groe Stille (2005/France / Switzerland / Germany)
Directed by Philip Grning
Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter
Made with many conditions attached, Philip Grnings documentary conveys a year in the life of the Carthusian monastary of the Grande Chartreuse, sitting silently and contemplatively in the French Alps.
The conditions imposed meant that no artificial light, no background music, no interviews, no commentary and no other crew could be used. Because of these restrictions the viewer is faced with almost 3 hours of virtual silence, only broken by the Gregorian chants, the general sound of movement of the monks and the tolling of the bells.
Visually the camera uses the available light to great effect, particularly when used with extreme close-ups in dimming light, the picture comes across almost like a moving pointillist painting, quite beautiful in its own way. Its only with regard to the more general and outdoor shots which seem dull in comparison that you get a true sense of the isolation and claustrophobic feel of the monastary.
Being almost entirely self sufficient, the order has its own workshops, laundry, barbers and gardens, the younger initiates carry out the hard labour of log chopping etc while the older monks deal with the lighter work, all of this needs to be fitted around their continuous prayers and studies. Once a week they take a walk outside, still remaining totally detached from society though it does give them an opportunity to communicate with each other.
The repetitive nature of the monks existence is caught perfectly, prayer, reading, chanting, prayer, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. the seasons change but the song remains the same. Its like a time capsule with a routine that has probably been virtually the same for hundreds of years. As such this film serves as a wonderful advertisement for the monastary and anyone who has the compulsion to share this lifestyle. If you can watch this and still feel the desire to cut yourself off from society living the at times harsh and always repetitive lifestyle of a monk then you will probably last the course, unlike the 80% of novices who leave the order.
A spiritual and devout existence without a doubt but for me it felt more like Hell than Heaven, a self imposed prison sentence, a hermit like existence. If I felt the need to serve God as these men obviously do, then Id rather be working with people to help others, if there is a God, I would hope he'd rather we give our lives to aiding those in need rather than devoting our lives to praising his name.
A surprisingly packed theatre for Into Great Silence, on average you would be lucky to see 20 people at a matinee screening but there were at least double that number. Though nobody left during the film, the silence was broken several times by loud snoring.