Thursday, September 4, 2014

Into Great Silence

Into Great Silence is a nearly three-hour, mostly silent documentary that follows the Carthusian monks who make Chartreuse (more on that later). It documents the asceticism of their order and the beauty of their surroundings. It's quite a film--there isn't much sound at all, and there are hardly any words, although the few that are there are very moving (a blind monk talks about God seeing the whole of our lives whenever He looks at us, and only permitting what works for our good--the monk said he thanks God for making him blind, because he knows it's for his good).

The other words that punctuate the film are lines written on a black background--"Oh Lord, you have seduced me and I was seduced" and "Anyone who does not give up all he has cannot be my disciple."

The filmmaker, Philip Groning, doesn't use artificial light in his shots, so there are lots and lots of vintage-looking grainy shots (Francisco says the technical term is "noise"). Plus, the lives of the monks themselves are stark: they take most of their meals in their cells, like prisoners, coming together on Sundays and solemnities for meals in common. They take a walk once a week. He gives you long video photos of the monks, as they stare at the camera--they seem almost uncomfortable in front of the camera: it's clear they aren't used to being filmed or photographed. In fact, when the filmmaker asked to come and film them, it took them 16 years to agree to it.

One delightful scene is of the monks sledding down a hill. It's amazing to see them being playful in the midst of so much sobriety and ritual.

A word about the Chartreuse: there are extra scenes on the second dvd with the Chartreuse-making, which I was sad that they left out of the main film until I watched them: they don't fit with Into Great Silence at all. The Chartreuse-making was loud and mechanized (probably far less than any other liquor-manufacturing, but still), and not quiet and peaceful. Plus, it's pretty hard to understand a manufacturing process without any words.

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