Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: Not Rated but could be PG for mature themes
Run Time: 2 hours, 42 minutes. In French and Latin with English subtitles
Patience is a virtue in Philip Gröning’s mesmerizing documentary that offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse Monastery in the French Alps.
There’s a method to Gröning’s madness. Sixteen years after he asked permission to film the Catholic Church’s strictest order he was invited to proceed; with one camera, no artificial lighting and no crew.
From several months of capturing the monks’ daily rhythms on film Gröning has created a work that is essentially simple and purely profound. Existing on everlasting prayer and joyful penance the brothers of the Carthusian community live in near-permanent silence in their service to God – using words only to further their work and during a weekly walk devised to strengthen mutual affection.
Beyond the realm of language “Silence” speaks volumes about the joys of minimalism; gardening, tailoring, reading and prayer. All is pared down to basics – the preparation of a simple soup, the cutting and sewing of a garment from remnant scraps, etc. The smallest sounds loom large and absorbing, from the scuff of slippers in a deserted alcove to the metrical ticking of a clock.
The most intriguing aspect is the endless fascination inherent in nearly three hours of immersion into monastic life. Even the changing of the seasons takes on a special import, ripe with the voluptuous pulse of nature’s own sensual beat.
The monks – who spend on average sixty-five years cloistered within their walls – are deeply spiritual yet almost childlike in their approach to small pleasures; delighting in a snowball fight or a shared joke on their weekly strolls.
Gröning shot one hundred and twenty hours of film, acquiring profound images along the way. Long lingering close-ups of individual monks’ faces enthrall; at once haunting and voyeuristic.
There’s an inherent beauty to the magical monotony of “Silence” that took me by surprise; impressionistic, moving, and worth slowing down for.